The struggle with cancer may be entering a radically new stage.
Last December, at a medical conference in Atlanta, the team presented its results to a rapt audience. The data boiled down to this: Nine out of the 12 patients, including both of the children, had responded to the therapy. Nine out of 12 had grown the engineered T cells in their bodies. Nine out of 12 had experienced some degree of tumor lysis syndrome and had seen their tumors vanish, either partially or completely.
Even more encouraging were the follow-up data on the two early cases of compete remission—patients No. 1, Bill Ludwig, and No. 3, Douglas Olson.
One big question all along has been the durability of the T cells. How long will they stay alive in the blood? Months? Years? Will cancer return in these patients? Doctors don’t know. “I don’t think we’ve proven that we’ve cured anyone,” Porter says. Still, when Ludwig and Olson returned to Philly for their two-year checkups in the fall of 2012, they told doctors they felt great. The team checked their blood. The T cells were still alive, two years after infusion. Cancer undetectable.
“I think of these guys as the first astronauts, right?” says Levine. “They didn’t know what they were getting into. They signed up for something, and it’s wonderful to see how it’s turned out.”“
I mean, I thought it might work,” June says, “but I didn’t think it would work as well as it did.”