• Half a dozen patients in Germany have been cured of lupus — at least for now.
  • Their doctors often used a blood-engineering technique designed to fight aggressive cancers (CAR-T).
  • Due to the cost and laboratory work required for each patient, such a method cannot be widely used for lupus-sufferers.

Doctors in Germany have found a way to effectively treat the most common form of lupus, using a novel and expensive blood transfusion technique traditionally used to treat cancer.

A group of immunologists in Erlangen, Germany announced in the journal Natural medicine All five on Thursday Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients treated with CAR-T cells during a diagnostic, compassionate use trial were in remission three months after treatment and remained in remission for at least eight months.

Lead researcher George Sheth told STAT. He said the results of the treatment were “miraculous” and that such a course of treatment could be used so effectively to fight lupus “destroys us.”

“We were actually surprised at how effective it was,” he said.

The findings, although preliminary, suggest that the CAR-T method could one day have a major impact on treating inflammatory, autoimmune disease — if the maintenance is sustained long-term in these patients.

For now, the research team is still waiting to see if the six patients will remain “basically healthy” without further treatment and “there really isn’t any relapse,” Sheath told Insider.

The latest work builds on an initial research letter that Sheth and his colleagues published last year. New England Journal of MedicineAnother 20-year-old woman details how she was cured of lupus. She has been feeling better for at least 18 months.

In CAR-T, the patient’s blood is trained to fight the disease

CAR-T has no contraindications for lupus. It is expensive and labor-intensive to produce, which means this strategy may not be a viable treatment option for everyone. 200,000 Americans living with the disease.

Still, “If you don’t have success with conventional drugs and you have severe disease, I think that’s the time to intervene in CAR-T cell therapy in the future,” Sheth told Insider. It can be used to treat other serious diseases, including multiple sclerosis.

Today, CAR-T immunotherapy is usually reserved for treating aggressive cancers such as lymphomas, and can be costly. $450,000, according to the National Cancer Institute. One of the reasons why the treatment is so expensive is because it is very careful for each patient and their disease.

First, blood is drawn from the patient and then taken to a laboratory where immune-boosting T cells are warmed up with special proteins called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). Finally, those protein-enriched T cells are injected back into the patient and work to kill the target disease (for lupus, the T cells are engineered to fight CD19).

Remarkably, these German patients’ immune systems remained strong during their CAR-T treatment, with no serious infections or toxic side effects reported. This is in contrast to what can happen in cancer patients given CAR-T who develop neurological issues or life-threatening cytokine storms.

“This seems to be the holy grail of therapy,” Dr. Mark Leek, who was not involved in this lupus study but works on CAR-T therapies at Massachusetts General Hospital, told STAT.

The patients returned to riding horses, dancing and studying.

Sheth says one of his young patients is riding horses again, another is a DJ in clubs, and a third is continuing her studies – all of which they had to give up altogether when lupus caught them, causing chronic, debilitating fatigue.

For now, CAR-T remains a highly-diagnosed, expensive, experimental fix for a few lucky lupus sufferers. For the millions of other people with lupus around the world who do not have access to these types of specialized blood-engineering programs, standard recommended treatments are still limited to steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to relieve symptoms, or are expensive in more severe cases. Monoclonal antibodies.

But, “I think it’s not that expensive if you can really kill the disease with one CAR-T cell and get long-term remission,” Sheth said, noting that his doctors have spent ten in non-commercial trials. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of treating each sick patient (they saved costs by manufacturing their CAR-T cells in-house).

“He’s a young man with his whole life ahead of them.” “If you can eradicate a disease by the time you’re 20 years old and you don’t get it again, well, then it might cost less and still be cost-effective in the long run.”

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