Believing in the Science Behind CAR T-Cell Therapy: Branden’s Story
Stories@Gilead - October 05, 2021
Branden is a 29-year-old leading a happy life with his wife, Crystal, and their two dogs while pursuing his passion in graphic design. But his life didn’t always look this way.
When he was just a teenager, Branden was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). After initial treatment with chemotherapy, Branden’s cancer went into remission and he started college and thought his cancer was behind him for good.
In 2015, Branden had just started his college’s graphic design program when he began to feel sick again and was referred to a nearby academic cancer center for further testing. A few days later, his doctor called to give him the news Branden hoped he would never hear: His cancer had returned.
“You’re always trying to reach normalcy when you have cancer,” Branden says. “The first time around with my initial diagnosis, it was scary, but I was younger and felt like I could get through it. With the relapse, it felt a little more out of my hands.”
Children diagnosed with ALL have survival rates of around 90%, so this relapse took Branden by surprise. Adults with ALL face a significantly poorer prognosis – roughly half of adult patients with ALL will relapse, and median overall survival is approximately eight months with current standard of care treatments.
Branden and Crystal, who were dating at the time, found themselves facing a terrifying unknown – but they were determined to get through it together. Crystal was by Branden’s side for all of his appointments and stayed with him every day in the hospital for more than a month while his doctors prepared him for a bone marrow transplant.
The procedure initially worked, but unfortunately a few years later, Branden’s cancer returned.
“At that point, he had already gone through chemotherapy, transplant and radiation,” Crystal recalls. “We thought the only other option was to cycle through those same treatments all over again.”
Instead, Branden’s oncologist presented another option to Branden for him to consider: a clinical trial with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy.
Branden’s oncologist explained that with CAR T, Branden’s white blood cells would be engineered to fight his cancer and then reintroduced back into his body with a single infusion. Branden believed in the science: He decided that night it was what he wanted to do, and he enrolled in the trial shortly thereafter.
CAR T worked for Branden, and he has remained in remission for four and a half years.
“After a decade of treatment, CAR T came along and I was just lucky to live long enough to see this advance come out of the labs and into my life,” says Branden.