For Miami Valley Today
TROY — Bill Willoughby has always been an optimist. This positive approach to life would serve him well after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015.
“I was going to a doctor and at one point he said with my condition, the best he could do was try to keep me in remission,” explained Bill, a Troy resident. “So, he referred me to Dr. Faber at OHC for a stem cell transplant. Being an optimist, I agreed and said, ‘I’m all in. Let’s get it done.’”
Bill went to OHC for his chemotherapy followed by the stem cell transplant for his lymphoma. OHC’s stem cell transplant experts have performed more than 2300 transplants since 1989.
“Stem cell transplant is a life-saving option for many people with blood cancers,” explained Edward Faber, Jr., MD, MS, an OHC medical oncologist, hematologist and transplant specialist. “But for Bill, months later he relapsed and the cancer was in his lungs, liver and in his bones. We’ve had excellent success with stem cell transplants. Unfortunately, there are some patients for whom it just doesn’t work. Our entire team was sad to learn that Bill was one of those patients.”
With the cancer now in his bones, Bill was experiencing more pain than before — not good for someone who still hasn’t retired from the building and rental property business. So, when Dr. Faber suggested another treatment option, Bill was again optimistic.
“Bill was an ideal candidate for a relatively new treatment called chimeric antigen receptor T cell immunotherapy, or CAR-T,” said Dr. Faber. “This is a ground-breaking treatment that has demonstrated incredible outcomes in some patients for whom all hope was lost. OHC has been using CAR-T for almost a year now and we’re seeing positive results. We’re hopeful this will be the case for Mr. Willoughby.”
CAR-T is still relatively new for treating cancers. In fact, OHC is the only adult cancer practice in the region to offer CAR-T to adults with blood cancers. With CAR-T, doctors remove immune system cells from a patient, modify them in a lab so they will recognize and kill cancer cells, then infuse them back into the patient through an IV. The cells that are injected back into the patient stay in the body, becoming what some researchers refer to as “living drugs” in that they are ready to attack if that same cancer returns.
“I had never heard of CAR-T when Dr. Faber told me about it,” Bill said. “He explained that it helps your immune system cells fight the cancer. So, I looked it up, especially because I was running out of options, and it seemed like a wonderful theory. They said I’m the fourth OHC patient to get this treatment.”
After completing his research and weighing his options, once again, Bill’s response was, “I’m all in. Let’s get this done.” Bill received his CAR-T treatment in July and today he’s feeling good.
“I had my last scan a few weeks ago and they said the cancer in my lungs is gone, the cancer in my liver has decreased, and I still have some spots in my bones but they too have decreased,” Bill said. “I’ve started back to work. I’ve been passionate about building and construction since I was 15 years old. Now I’m 70 and I’m still into it, although I mostly subcontract the work. But I have rental properties and still do that maintenance work.”
CAR-T has demonstrated success like no other treatment before. It received breakthrough therapy designation from the Food and Drug Administration, which means the process for approval is moved along more quickly after initial clinical trials show strong results. The procedure is currently performed in a designated center, originally as a hospital inpatient procedure that is now being administered in a hospital outpatient department.
“OHC is launching new clinical trials to determine if it can be given in a doctor’s office treatment suite setting, like OHC,” said Dr. Faber. “And soon, we hope to introduce clinical trials that will look to expand CAR-T to treat other cancers, like solid tumors.”
“We still have a way to go with CAR-T and other immunotherapies, but if it’s successful, it will forever change the way the world treats cancer. It’s a whole new frontier for medicine,” Dr. Faber added.
“I’ve always been an optimist and a Christian, and I look at this as a great thing that’s happened to me,” Bill added. “So does my family. I’ve already recommended it to a couple people I know who’ve also run out of options. I tell them to call Dr. Faber and see if he can get it for them. When your chances become limited and then you learn about this, you start to see a possible light at the end of the tunnel.”
OHC is the only adult cancer group in the region to offer this advanced treatment to adults. For more information including an educational video, visit https://www.ohcare.com/service/car-t-cell-therapy/ or call (888) 649-4800.