Conference Coverage

Monitoring, early intervention key to CAR T safety



– Constant patient monitoring and early intervention with tocilizumab and steroids are essential to the safe delivery of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), according to a leading expert.

Dr. Loretta Nastoupil, clinical researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston

Dr. Loretta Nastoupil

As a clinical researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Loretta Nastoupil, MD has played an active role in the evolution of CAR T-cell therapy, from early trials to ongoing development of treatment protocols. During a presentation at the annual meeting of the British Society for Haematology, Dr. Nastoupil discussed leading topics in CAR T-cell therapy, with an emphasis on safe delivery.

“[Toxicity] is something we don’t talk about as much as we should, partly because this therapy works and it’s really exciting,” Dr. Nastoupil said. “But the toxicity is not something that I minimize, and it’s very challenging. It’s led us to restructure our inpatient services. It’s led to a lot of sleepless nights. These patients can do very, very well, or they can do very, very poorly in terms of toxicity and I think the most important strategy is recognition and early intervention.”


Early recognition depends on close monitoring, Dr. Nastoupil said, which is carried out by highly trained nursing staff who follow therapy-specific decision algorithms.

“We have nurses that are on the front line,” Dr. Nastoupil said. “They’re the most important group. We have staff that round on [patients] daily, but the nurses are there 24 hours a day. We have a flow sheet where they grade cytokine release syndrome and neurotoxicity every 8 hours, or if there is an acute change in symptoms or toxicity, they’ll do it in real time.”

Dr. Nastoupil said that if these toxicities are detected, intervention is occurring sooner than it did with some of the first patients to receive CAR-T cell therapy.

“Initially there was a lot of fear surrounding anything that would abort the CAR-T cell therapy,” Dr. Nastoupil said. “There was concern that if you were trying to mitigate some of the toxicity you might have a negative impact on efficacy ... [W]ith the first iteration of studies, generally we were waiting until grade 3 or higher cytokine release syndrome before initiating either tocilizumab and/or steroids. As the studies evolved, it started to move into grade 2 toxicity that we started using therapy, mostly because we started to see that those patients were still responding.”

At MD Anderson, these earlier interventions have decreased severity of adverse events.

“It’s rare nowadays to have grade 3 or 4 cytokine release syndrome because we are generally introducing abortive therapy at grade 2,” Dr. Nastoupil said, citing increased use of steroids and tocilizumab.

Currently, no consensus exists for managing these events, partly because clinicians are still learning about best management practices.

“There will be a consensus on management,” Dr. Nastoupil said. “I think that’s needed. The problem is, it will probably evolve as we get more experience with managing these patients. I think there’s been a little hesitation to put something out on paper knowing that a year from now that might change.”


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