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Roger Williams Cancer Center offers first advanced therapies for blood cancers

The Roger Williams Cancer Center has achieved final approval as a treatment center for the Novartis Pharmaceutical’s CAR-T therapy Kymriah. The Cancer Center is the first and only provider in Rhode Island to offer patients access to this leading treatment for certain types of leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, both of which are serious blood cancers.

Kymriah is a form of T-cell cancer therapy which uses your body’s own white blood cells to target and kill specific forms of blood cancers. Kymriah is indicated for patients up to 25 years old who have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) that is either relapsing (went into remission, then came back) or is refractory (did not go into remission after receiving other leukemia treatments). It is also used in patients with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) that has relapsed or is refractory after having at least two other kinds of treatment.

Roger Williams became eligible to provide Kymriah therapy following a strenuous federal regulation review process after which they received accreditation from the Foundation for Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). Roger Williams is Rhode Island’s only FACT accredited program.

Kymriah is a therapeutic cancer medicine that is made from the patient’s white blood cells that are collected through a process called leukapheresis, a 2-4 hour outpatient procedure conducted at Roger Williams Cancer Center. The blood cells are frozen and sent to the NOVARTIS manufacturing site to make KYMRIAH. Here, the cells are genetically reengineered to create CD 19-directed antibodies. When the engineered cells are returned, usually after 4-6 weeks, the patient receives chemotherapy then the cells are infused, allowing the patient’s own cells to target and destroy the blood cancer cells. 

CharterCARE Health Partners is the corporate parent of Roger Williams and its cancer programs. CharterCARE CEO Jeffrey Liebman stated, “Our approval as Rhode Island’s only Kymriah authorized treatment provider is good news for Rhode Island and its cancer community. We are proud to launch access to this impressive new cancer therapy.”

Dr. Joseph Espat, chairman of Surgery and medical director of the Cancer Center, stated, “This accomplishment reinforces our 15-year leadership position as a CAR-T cell facility in New England and is just the latest reminder that patients seeking world class cancer care do not have to leave Rhode Island to find it.”

Dr. Todd Roberts, director of the Roger Williams Bone and Marrow Transplantation Program, stated, “Our approval as a Kymriah treatment provider is a singular achievement for our program and reinforces our position as Rhode Island’s only provider of vital treatment for victims of cancer. Rhode Islanders no longer have to travel out of state for this advanced treatment option.”

All Kymriah patient referrals can be made to Dr. Todd Roberts, Medical Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program, or to Dr. Kapil Meleveedu, Associate Director of BMT. Please contact Alexandra Milhaupt, the BMT Manager of Clinical Programs, by email or phone with referral information.

Alexandra Milhaupt RN, BMT Manager of Clinical Programs, (401) 456-2526 or alexandra.milhaupt@CharterCARE.org

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