Groundbreaking cancer treatment for kids rolling out at HackensackUMC

HACKENSACK, NJ — A cutting-edge way to treat an often-lethal form of cancer is about to be applied to the first patient in New Jersey at Hackensack University Medical Center. Doctors are planning to use CAR-T cell therapy to treat a 2-year-old girl from New York. The treatment was just approved to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults by the F.D.A. in late August.

“This is a major advance. And I really think this is gonna help these children that we had nothing to offer,” said Dr. Alfred Gillio, Director of HUMC’s Pediatric Cancer Center.

CAR-T will be used on patients who don’t respond to chemotherapy or whose transplants fail.

“This is a treatment for children who have had a second relapse, for whom there are no other options,” said Dr. Stephen Percy, Interim Chairman of Pediatrics at HUMC.

The hospital expects to treat somewhere between 5 to 10 patients per year at the onset, but doctors believe the treatment will become more prevalent in the future.

It was made by Novartis, involves extracting a patient’s T cells, freezing them and genetically modifying them to target and kill leukemia cells. Novartis' facility where patients cells will be transported for alteration is also based in New Jersey.

A clinical trial performed on over 60 children and young adults produced a survival rate of about 80 percent, when previously these patients could have been told to prepare for the worst.

“It’s an opportunity to really change the game for children with cancer in New Jersey,” said Dr. Percy.

There will be 31 locations in the U.S. that provide CAR-T therapy. HackensackUMC is currently the only location in New Jersey that’s certified to administer the treatment.