BAKERSFIELD, CA - Kern County's fight against prostate cancer has taken another step forward. The Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center can now harvest immune cells from patients. Those cells will be trained to attack the cancer. The treatment is called Provenge and CBCC is the first free-standing cancer center in the state to offer collection and infusion of the cells.
Benjamin Acob is among the first to get his cells harvested and then infused, part of cellular-based personalized immunotherapy, at CBCC.
"Yeah, I'm very happy. It's nice," said Acob.
Dr. Ravi Patel is the Medical Director at the CBCC. "They were able to harness the ability to collect specialized cells in the immune system, train them, and reactivate the individual's immune system to then attack prostate cancer cells," explained Dr. Patel.
The FDA-approved treatment is called Provenge. In about three hours, immune cells are pulled, separated and collected. Those cells are sent to a lab, where they are trained outside the body to absorb proteins common to prostate cancer. They are injected back into the body and train other cells what they've learned, to target and eliminate prostate cancer cells. It's using your own immune system to target cancer. The cells are just getting some help to know what exactly to look for. It's much like when authorities put out a 'wanted' poster when they are looking for a criminal.
"That's a good way to put it," said Dr. Patel. "You know, you have a 'wanted' poster, but there are so many guys with blue eyes and black eyes, but this is the particular guy we are looking for, you know."
There are three treatments every two weeks. Now offered at CBCC, it saves Benjamin's sister, Esmenia Agbayani, trips to Los Angeles for the procedures.
"You know, it's hard to drive him over there for this kind of treatment," said Agbayani.
The treatment has a 20 percent reduction in death rate, and those who underwent the therapy, lived longer than those who did not. It's a first step to advanced prostate cancer treatment, but can be combined with other methods after.
"Why not stimulate the immune system," said Dr. Patel. "It's like someone is attacking you from the front door and you close the front door. And, someone comes and attacks you from the back door. So, in the same way you use a part of the immune system, but then you combine it with other therapies."
"We're very hopeful that it will take care of that cancer cell and make them go away," said Agbayani.
Provenge costs $100,000, but it's covered by Medi-Cal and most insurance for Stage 4 prostate cancer. And, Dr. Patel says there are clinical trials going on now to test it on other cancers.