CLEVELAND — When 61-year-old Ken Anderson was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma 3 years ago, he didn’t know what to expect.
“It kind of hits you. It hits you hard,” he said. “It’s a blood cancer, and it’s in your bone marrow, and it degenerates your bones is what it does.”
The cancer is incurable, but treatable.
“You live with it and you have to have many rounds of chemotherapy to keep the myeloma at bay,” said Dr. Ted Teknos, the president of University Hospital’s Seidman Cancer Center.
With so many unknowns, the dad of 4 girls and grandfather of 2 knew one thing, he was going to fight.
“You just have to look to the road ahead,” he said.
For the past 3 years, that road has been filled with ups and downs and countless rounds of chemotherapy treatments and even a bone marrow transplant.
“They give you your stem cells back and those regenerate and lasted for about 6 months, and then there was a relapse,” said Anderson.
Through it all, he remained hopeful for a medical breakthrough. He read about the research and followed up on the results of clinical trials in something called CAR T therapy.
“I didn't know how far out that would be. It didn't say how far out it was. It sounded, to me, something like 10 or 20 years.”
But it wasn’t 20 years, the FDA approved CAR T therapy for Multiple Myeloma patients, and University Hospitals is the first in Ohio to treat patients with it. Anderson, who is from Kirtland, is the first patient in Ohio to receive it.
“These treatments, now, are available for those that have run out of options,” said Dr. Teknos.
Dr. Teknos compared the treatment to something straight out of a science fiction movie.
“In essence, it’s like a heat-seeking missile for the cells to go find the cancer and eradicate it,” he said.
It works by taking a patient’s own white blood cells, genetically modifying them in a lab and then infusing them back into their body so the patient’s cells can fight off the cancer cells.
“They will engineer them to attack my cancer cells,” said Anderson.
Dr. Teknos calls it “living therapy.”
“You're taking living cells out of a patient, you're modifying them, and then you're growing them up in the lab and then re-infusing them back into the patient,” he said. “It's their own cells that have been modified and fight the cancer. “
Dr. Teknos said in clinical trials, about 75% of Multiple Myeloma patients had a response to therapy, and in 1/3 of patients, their cancer went away.
“It’s really a game changer,” said Dr. Teknos. “There are patients who literally had weeks to live and then a year and a half later, have no cancer at all.”
Anderson’s cells are currently in the lab. He will receive his infusion next month. He is cautiously optimistic that the next stop on his journey will have him feeling better.
“I won't have to be on the chemo anymore, so I'm just back to feeling like myself would be would be really exciting,” he said. “People who are out there and diagnosed with this, with this disease, know that we are on the cusp of some big things here in the treatment of it, and this is a huge advance.”
While Anderson is currently fighting Multiple Myeloma, University Hospitals is also offering a new CAR T cell therapy treatment for patients diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma.