Beyond the median

It’s been five years since I was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). I’ve always wanted to know what to expect from treatment. In 2014 the general consensus among haematologists was that the disease was treatable, if incurable. Depending on which research you read, the median survival time from diagnosis was somewhere between 3 and 7 years. Of course, median survival times tell you little about your own prospects. You always hope that you will be on the side of the survival curve that’s beyond the median.

The good news for MCL patients is that the median survival time is continuing to rise as new treatments are developed. I’ve recently read two interesting pieces of research. The first is a retrospective study of patients treated between 2000 and 2014¹. The survival graphs that are directly relevant to me are reproduced below.

OS and PFS in MCL patients younger than 65

For patients younger than 65 years old who had a stem cell transplant following chemotherapy, these charts show that the median overall survival time was around 13 years from first treatment, with the first 7 years likely to be disease-free. Subsequent treatments become much less effective however – hence the rather gloomy sounding subtitle to the study.

The second study concerns an innovative trial for MCL using CAR T therapy. This type of treatment was covered by the recent War in the blood documentary. CAR T therapy involves genetically re-engineering blood cells (T cells) so that they selectively target cancer cells and kill them. A paper² will be presented at the American Society of Hematology’s annual conference in December reporting on the progress of the Zuma-2 trial. The conference abstract states that of 28 patients who received the treatment, progression free survival after a year was 71%.

It’s significant as many of these patients suffered multiple relapses and had hard to treat variants of the disease. CAR T is not yet a cure and there were some pretty severe side effects (‘mostly reversible’), but it does seem like progress. More patients have now been treated on the trial, so it will be fascinating to see the updated results in a year or two’s time.

¹ Kumar, A., Sha, F., Toure, A. et al. Patterns of survival in patients with recurrent mantle cell lymphoma in the modern era: progressive shortening in response duration and survival after each relapse. Blood Cancer J. 9, 50 (2019)

² Wang, M.L. et al. 754 KTE-X19, an Anti-CD19 Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T Cell Therapy, in Patients With Relapsed/Refractory Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL): Results of the Phase 2 ZUMA-2 Study. (2019)

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