Study reveals inequities in access to transformative CAR T cell therapy

Penn Medicine researchers have assessed the percentage of patients from minority health populations and reveal inequities in access to transformative CAR T cell therapy.

Patients being treated for B-cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) who are part of minority populations may not have equal access to cutting-edge CAR T cell therapies, according to a new analysis led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine and published in NEJM Evidence.

CAR T cell therapy is a personalized form of cancer therapy that was pioneered at Penn Medicine and has brought hope to thousands of patients who had otherwise run out of treatment options. Six different CAR T cell therapies have been approved since 2017 for a variety of blood cancers, including B-cell NHL that has relapsed or stopped responding to treatment.

A cancer doctor and patient looking at medical forms.
Image: iStock/PeopleImages

“CAR T cell therapy represents a major leap forward for blood cancer treatment, with many patients living longer than ever before, but its true promise can only be realized if every patient in need has access to these therapies,” says lead author Guido Ghilardi, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of senior author Marco Ruella, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology and scientific director of the Lymphoma Program. “From the scientific perspective, we’re constantly working in the laboratory to make CAR T cell therapy work better, but we also want to make sure that when a groundbreaking treatment like this becomes available, it reaches all patients who might be able to benefit.”

Reducing cancer disparities—differences in incidence, diagnosis, screening, treatment, and outcomes—is a major focus in oncology, with many groups working to understand and address the disparities that patients from certain racial/ethnic and/or socioeconomic backgrounds experience. For example, Black and African American patients have higher death rates than other racial/ethnic groups for many cancer types, including large B-cell lymphoma (LBCL), the most common subtype of NHL.

This study assessed the percentage of patients from minority health populations—defined by the federal government as those who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander—treated for LBCL and the percentage who received CAR T cell therapy at two different cancer centers between 2018 and 2022. The researchers include data from Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) in Philadelphia, where the minority health population prevalence is higher than the United States average, and from the Oregon Health and Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute (KCI) in Portland, which has a lower minority population than the U.S. average. The percentage of minorities with NHL in each center’s catchment area (the surrounding countries that make up the primary population served by a health system) mirrored the percentages treated at each center, indicating equitable access to cancer care for the local community in both locations.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.