Novartis presents response rate data for CART therapy CTL019 in lymphoma

Novartis announced Sunday data from an ongoing Phase IIa study demonstrating that the experimental chimaeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART) therapy CTL019 led to an overall response rate (ORR) at three months of 47 percent in adults with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and an ORR of 73 percent in adults with follicular lymphoma. The results of the trial were presented at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting.

Findings from the study, which was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, include 15 adults with DLBCL and 11 with follicular lymphoma who were evaluable for response. Results showed that three patients with DLBCL who achieved a partial response (PR) to treatment at three months converted to complete response (CR) by six months. In addition, three patients with follicular lymphoma who achieved a PR at three months converted to CR by six months.

Novartis added that one DLBCL patient with a PR at three months experienced disease progression at six months after treatment. Further, one follicular lymphoma patient with a PR at three months who remained in PR at nine months experienced disease progression at approximately 12 months after treatment. The company indicated that median progression-free survival was 11.9 months for patients with follicular lymphoma and 3 months for those with DLBCL.

In the study, four patients developed cytokine release syndrome (CRS) of grade 3 or higher. Novartis noted that during CRS, patients typically experience varying degrees of influenza-like symptoms with high fevers, nausea, muscle pain, and in some cases, low blood pressure and breathing difficulties. Meanwhile, neurologic toxicity occurred in two patients in the trial, including one grade three episode of delirium and one possibly related grade five encephalopathy.

"These data add to the growing body of clinical evidence on CTL019 and illustrate its potential benefit in the treatment of relapsed and refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma," commented lead investigator Stephen Schuster. Novartis indicated that the findings keep CTL019 on track for submission to the FDA in 2017. Usman Azam, global head of Novartis' cell and gene therapies unit, said "we remain consistent again with the data set."

"It's an attractive population, it's a population that continues to have a huge unmet need, it's a cornerstone of our investments," Azam remarked. Analysts expect CART therapies, once approved, to cost up to $450 000 per patient. Novartis acknowledged that prices will be high, but declined to give further details. "With any disruptive innovation that comes, initially, cost of goods is very challenging," Azam said, adding "as time goes on, and more patients are treated, we will simplify that cost base."

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