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Innovative LLS-Funded Therapy Gives Man Second Chance at Life

Posted by andreahgreif in The LLS Blog, 28 January 2015 · 869 views
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You may have seen the article today in U.S. News & World Report featuring Doug Olson, 68, who is a survivor of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) thanks to a remarkable experimental therapy.

Doug is an active volunteer with LLS’s Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, working to ensure laws are in place so blood cancer patients have access to the therapies they need.

As the U.S. News & World Report story imparts, Doug was himself fortunate to gain access to an innovative breakthrough therapy advanced with support from LLS at a time when his doctors gave him less than two years to live. Now more than four years later, he remains in remission.

He was diagnosed in 1996 with CLL and after six years of watchful waiting – a common protocol for patients of this slow-moving leukemia - he began to require chemotherapy treatments which helped keep him in remission for another five years. But eventually the chemotherapy stopped working and he was told his only option was a bone marrow transplant, something he was reluctant to undertake because of the high risk.

Then, in 2010, his oncologist, David Porter, M.D., at University of Pennsylvania, who is the principal investigator of a clinical trial testing an experimental personalized gene therapy called CAR-T immunotherapy, got him enrolled in the trial. We’ve written many times about this therapy and the role LLS has played in supporting its early development in the lab and in early clinical trials, in this blog, such as here and here. LLS funds a research team led by Carl June, M.D., at Penn, and Porter is one of June's collaborators.

The CAR process requires extracting T cells from the blood of a patient and outfitting them with two powerful features: a receptor on the cell surface that recognizes the CD19 protein present on most leukemic cells, and a powerful mechanism inside the cell that triggers it to expand and proliferate once attached to the targeted protein. With these engineered features, the T cells are injected back into the patient to hunt and then destroy cancer cells. The FDA has given the approach Breakthrough Therapy Designation. The immunotherapy is still in clinical trials but to date, 90 percent of acute lymphoblastic (ALL) patients, and 50 percent of CLL patients in the trials experienced a complete response to the treatment.

“It was a gift,” he says of his successful outcome. “It was a chance to live. And I would not be alive today if it hadn’t been for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and their investment in this research.”

Doug says he recalls the day that Dr. Porter came to his hotel room to deliver the news. “I still get chills,” he says. “He was telling me there was a good chance I was going to be ok.”

Four and a half years later, and still no signs of cancer cells. We are truly inspired by Doug’s story and grateful to our donors who helped us advance one of the most promising new therapies of the century.

Please consider helping us to continue advancing these types of innovative, live-saving therapies. Click here to donate now.

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