Yescarta – A Promising Drug

By, Alison Poussaint

Usually swelling is not abnormal. A college student sprains her ankle, an athlete gets hit with a soccer ball, a teacher experiences the flare-up of an old shoulder injury. However, many of these adults may see swelling in their neck, underarms, and groin later in life, a sign of Diffuse large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), a disease that has affected thirty thousand Americans. A cancer of the blood, DLBCL occurs when one type of the body’s white blood cells, B-Cell lymphocytes, divide and multiply uncontrollably within the bone marrow, thyroids, bone marrow, and spleen.

The other type of white blood cell, T-Cell lymphocytes, can be utilized as a weapon against infected B-Cell lymphocytes through CAR T-Cell Therapy. In CAR T-Cell Therapy, T-Cell lymphocytes are removed from the patient, modified to recognize infected B-Cell lymphocytes, and returned into the patient. These modified T-Cell lymphocytes attack the infected B-Cell lymphocytes and help fight the disease.

Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed two CAR T-Cell therapy drugs. The first drug, Kymriah, priced highly at $475,000, was proposed by a company called Kite Pharma in August and was used for children with leukemia, a similar cancer of the white blood cells, when their leukemia did not respond to other treatments. When a pharmaceutical company called Gilead Sciences purchased Kite Pharma in late August, Gilead Sciences strove to produce a drug that targeted DLBCL in adults. Yescarta, the second drug approved by the FDA, was valued at $373,000.

Clinical trials and experimental runs have demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug. During another clinical trial for Yescarta, according to The Washington Post, 100 patients with B-Cell lymphoma were treated with the drug. 51% of the 72 patients that responded to the treatment had no remaining signs of cancer. After six months, 39% percent of patients showed no signs of cancer. However, a few of these patients had side effects from Yescarta treatment: confusion, high fevers, high blood pressure, and even death, causing the FDA to issue a warning on each treatment.  

Though there are side effects, many have praised the drug’s effects. “‘In just several decades, gene therapy has gone from being a promising concept to a practical solution to deadly and largely untreatable forms of cancer,’” remarked FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). In recent weeks, what Gottlieb describes has proven true.

Members of the Winsor community also commented on the effectiveness of the drug and its impact on patients with DLBCL. Avantika K. ’19 stated, “There is clearly some work to be done, both in terms of the number of side effects and the extremity of them and in terms of the percent of success in people. I do see it as a step in the right direction […] They are never going to get a 100% success rate–– no medicines or treatments really work like that–– but the fact that around half of the participants found that it helped says a lot to me, because it suggests that we are getting closer to something more effective.”  

Yescarta provides a hopeful future treatment option for patients whose previous treatments have not been effective. The work that both companies, Kite Pharma and Gilead Sciences, have done has proven that there is hope for the cure of lymphoma and other types of cancer. In the next few years, who knows how many other effective drugs will be produced and in twenty years; maybe we will see the end of DLBCL, breast cancer, and leukemia.