Clinical trials of a promising new therapy, in which white blood cells are reprogrammed to attack cancer cells, has resulted in the deaths of three patients. In response, the US Food and Drug Administration has ordered a temporary halt to the trial.
The new therapy, called JCAR015 (also known as the “ROCKET” trial), uses genetically engineered immune cells—known as CAR-T cells—to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in adults, a cancer of the immune system that starts from the early version of white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow. Once these juiced-up CAR-T cells are reintroduced into the patient’s bloodstream, they should prevent cancer from spreading and taking hold. In a study conducted earlier this year, 94 percent of terminally ill patients who were treated with CAR-T went into remission.