CAR-T Cell Therapy in Israel Brightens the Future for Leukemia Patients
CAR-T Cell Therapy in Israel is a pioneering new treatment for leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood. Leukemia, which can cause extreme and devastating symptoms, is sadly the most frequently diagnosed cancer among children. In addition, standard therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy often fail to eradicate all types of this disease. Yet the recent appearance of a revolutionary new approach called CAR-T Cell Therapy is changing the future of leukemia treatment and giving new hope to patients.
Engineered CAR-T cells (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell) were invented originally by Prof. Zelig Eshhar from the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel. Many years later, various health facilities in the United States established the use of these CAR-T cells as a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
In order to found the CAR-T program for ALL in Israel, Dr. Elad Jacoby, Attending Physician at the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Department and Investigator in Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, Sheba Medical Center, trained at the National Cancer Institute in the US. His unique and comprehensive high-level training enabled the establishment of CAR-T therapy in Israel.
What is CAR-T Cell Therapy & How Does it Work?
To administer CAR-T therapy, a doctor extracts blood from the patient, which is then sent to a specialized laboratory where the T-cells are separated from the rest of the blood. The next step is to genetically engineer these T-cells, which are a type of immune cell, so that they produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). After the modified T-cells take time to multiply in a laboratory setting, a doctor injects them back into the patient. Now they function differently – due to the CARs, these engineered T-cells can recognize tumor cells and destroy them.
While the T-cells are reproducing, the patient receives chemotherapy that suppresses their immune system. In effect, this helps the CAR-T cells work more efficiently once they are injected into the patient. Altogether, this revolutionary treatment for leukemia takes approximately 10 days, and patients are typically hospitalized for at least two weeks for monitoring.
Meet Mylène: CAR-T Therapy in Israel Saved Her Life
Mylène, a Swiss 15-year old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in January 2016. She underwent five months of intensive chemotherapy at Lucerne State Hospital, in Switzerland – only to relapse in July of that same year. Unfortunately, Mylène had an extremely resistant type of leukemia that does not generally have a good prognosis. Further treatments of high-dose chemotherapy and biopharmaceutical drugs were not able to bring her into full remission. When Mylène suffered her fourth relapse, her leukemia was extramedullary (clusters of abnormal cells were discovered outside her bone marrow), which was a worst-case scenario.
At this point, the only remaining treatment for Mylène was breakthrough CAR-T Cell therapy. This new treatment was available in the United States, yet for the steep price of approximately a half a million dollars. However, it was also available in Israel at a much more affordable cost. So Mylène’s Swiss physician reached out to his colleagues in Israel, Dr. Elad Jacoby and Prof. Shai Izraeli, at Sheba Medical Center.
Mylène and her parents arrived at Sheba in May, 2017. She arrived in excruciating pain and went straight to the emergency room at the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba. Once the doctors managed to help abate her pain, Mylène then had to wait for her T-cell levels to rise sufficiently to begin CAR-T therapy. About one month later, the doctors extracted her T-cells and engineered them to target her leukemia. After 35 million modified T-cells were injected into her body, it took seven weeks of specialized care at Sheba until Mylène finally overcame her challenging course of progressive resistant leukemia.
Mylène returned to Switzerland at the end of July, and further testing at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich verified the success of the life-saving CAR-T treatment.
Mylène’s family shares, “Without Dr. Elad Jacoby, our medical coordinator, and the volunteer medical staff at Sheba, we never would have survived this turning point in our life… Both medical competency and compassion abound at Sheba. ”
What Are the Success Rates of CAR-T therapy?
The very first child with leukemia to receive CAR-T treatment in Israel achieved total remission. Since 2016, the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department at Sheba Medical Center has provided CAR-T cell therapy for 17 cases, and 75% of these showed complete remission.
- In young children: 85-90%
- Teenagers: About 80%
- Entire patient population: Approximately 70%
Benefits of CAR-T Cell Therapy at Sheba Medical Center in Israel
In Israel, CAR-T Cell Therapy is performed exclusively at Sheba Medical Center, led by the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department and the Ella Lemelbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology. Sheba was the first hospital to pioneer this innovative treatment outside of the United States, and it is currently only offered in the United States on a clinical trial basis.
The Benefits of CAR-T Cell Therapy at Sheba:
- Convenient on-site care: We feature full CAR-T facilities under one-roof (including blood harvesting, chemotherapy, genetic engineering laboratory, T-cell injections, and patient observation), creating an efficient experience
- Affordable fees: Medical expenses are generally lower than in the US, and we offer full transparency with no hidden costs
- World-renowned specialists: Our staff includes some of the most qualified and experienced oncologists, hematologists, and immunologists in the world
- Full accreditation: We are fully accredited for international healthcare by the Joint Commission International (JCI)
- Patient-friendly: A coordinator from the International Medical Tourism Division will assist with everything from travel to translation
- Holistic care: Healthcare at Sheba is provided with a holistic approach; treatments are designed to take the patient’s quality of life and overall well-being into consideration