Immunotherapy Program

Immunotherapy Program

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute (NHCI) Immunotherapy Program is part of our nationally recognized treatment center for leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and blood and marrow transplant.

Northside Hospital has been doing cancer immunotherapy for decades in the form of allogeneic stem cell transplantation, in which a donor’s bone marrow or blood is transplanted into a patient to cure aggressive blood cancers. Such transplants represented the first definitive proof of the human immune system’s capacity to cure cancer. Now, researchers are developing new ways to strengthen and empower a patient’s own immune system to fight very-difficult-to-treat cancers.

What is Immunotherapy?

The immune system is incredibly efficient and well-designed to recognize foreign invaders and eliminate them. This is how it protects us against infections. However, the immune system has trouble eliminating cancer cells because of the way cancer cells have evolved, with the ability to hide and trick the immune system in order to survive.

Immunotherapy refers to ways we stimulate the immune system to identify and better fight cancer. We do this with drugs or as a cell-based therapy.

Several different types of cancer immunotherapy are being utilized both commercially and in research studies. There are active research protocols ongoing at Northside in using these therapies to treat certain cancers.

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These are drugs, usually given intravenously (IV), which take the brakes off the patient’s immune system and help it to be stronger and fight cancer. Many of these drugs are commercially available now for the treatment of various types of cancers.
  • Bispecific antibodies: These are biologic agents, or proteins, given via IV, that attach to both immune cells and cancer cells and bring them together in proximity, helping the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
  • Cell-based immunotherapies (including CAR T-cell therapy): Immune cells are taken directly from a patient and genetically modified to be better tumor-fighting immune cells. The cells are then typically expanded to great numbers in laboratories and prepared for reinfusion back into the patient.

How is Immunotherapy Different from Conventional Cancer Treatment?

Conventional chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells by working on the “machinery” inside of cells and causing the cells to die. Unfortunately, normal healthy cells often have similar machinery, so there can be many side effects to treatment (hair loss, nausea, etc.).

With immunotherapy, instead of directly targeting cancer cells themselves, we indirectly stimulate or boost one’s immune system to fight the cancer.

How does CAR T-Cell Therapy Work?

Northside is among select centers in the country to offer chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, one of the most promising cell-based cancer immunotherapies available. This new therapy just received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2017, and is giving hope to patients who previously did not have it.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute treating blood cancer patients with cell-based immunotherapy | Press Release

This highly specialized treatment involves:

  • Removing immune system T-cells from the blood stream.
  • Shipping T-cell product to a manufacturing laboratory.
  • Genetically engineering (reprogramming) T-cells to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs. This enables the T-cells to better recognize and kill cancer cells.
  • Expanding T-cells to make billions of new enhanced T-cells.
  • Infusing CAR T-cell product back to the patient to target and kill malignant cancer cells.

Prior to CAR T-cell infusion, the patient receives disease-specific chemotherapy, which creates space within the immune system to allow the infused reprogrammed CAR T-cells to grow and multiply.

CAR T-cell infusion occurs on the Northside Hospital Inpatient Blood and Marrow Transplant, Leukemia and Immunotherapy Unit. The process is similar to receiving a blood product infusion.

Recovery from CAR T-cell therapy can take two to three months. During this time, frequent clinic monitoring visits, additional studies and possible hospitalization may occur, if side effects develop.

Why Choose Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Immunotherapy Program?

Our Immunotherapy Program physicians are experts in administering CAR T-cell therapy and other immunotherapy cancer treatments, and Northside is one of only a handful of facilities in the Southeast (two in Georgia) that has the capacity and facilities to manage the toxicity of immunotherapy agents.

Northside has participated in novel CAR T-cell therapy clinical trials and has the experience to care for patients who may develop mild-to-severe immunological side effects. With access to state-of-the-art diagnostic testing, facilities, comprehensive patient-centered care, and a highly trained team, Northside provides immunotherapy patients with exceptional quality care that result in outstanding survival outcomes and patient satisfaction.


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