This is an important and necessary follow-up to the ongoing Juno JCAR015 story in July after three patients had died due to complications associated with cerebral oedema. At that time, the company attributed the deaths to the inclusion of fludarabine in the lymphodepletion given prior to CAR T cell therapy infusion, leading to severe neurotoxicity, and clinical hold was lifted by FDA after the protocol was subsequently amended.
This morning came the dramatic announcement that following the protocol amendment, Juno has voluntarily placed the ROCKET trial on clinical hold again following another two deaths from cerebral oedema.
What gives and what are the consequences here?
We take a joint look at some of the issues that arise from this situation in terms of the CAR T cell therapy market and also pen thoughts from the analyst call this morning.
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This morning we heard that Juno Therapeutics have registered their plans with the SEC for an Initial Public Offering (IPO), highlighting the desire of the VC investors to generate a fast turnaround on their money before a multi-center trial of their CAR-T cell therapy has even started!
One of the challenges with CAR-T cell therapy is despite some stunning results, particularly in pediatric ALL, it remains an experimental one with toxicities that have to been managed. Adult patients, who are extremely sick, have died on trials. If I was at the end of the line faced with certain death, I’d probably roll the dice and take an experimental therapy, but CAR-T cell therapy does have challenges that need to be addressed.
Indeed at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting last week, one of the Hot Topic sessions that took place after the conference formally ended was in managing the toxicities associated with chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy.
Of particular concern for all CAR-T cell therapies in development is severe cytokine release syndrome (sCRS), which requires treatment in hospital intensive care.
Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) involves fevers, hypotension, hypoxia and even neurological toxicities. It’s been known for some time to be a challenging side effect of CAR-T therapy. We first wrote about it at ASH 2012.
As Novartis, Juno and Kite all look towards multi-center registration trials, the identification of patients at risk of severe CRS (sCRS) and the management of this in very sick, often end stage patients remains a real challenge, especially given that we don’t fully know what causes it to occur in some patients, but not others. Patient deaths due to sCRS are not good news on any clinical trial, and even less so when it’s a novel therapy in development.
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