At the age of 62, retired public servant Vamberto Luiz de Castro was fighting lymphoma when he sought the Hospital das Clínicas de Ribeirão Preto (HCRP), a national reference in the fight against cancer, in 2019. Born in Minas Gerais, Vamberto was terminally ill when he entered the HCRP Blood Center and accepted to participate in the experimental treatment with CAR-T cells. In less than 30 days, the cancer cells had dramatically reduced.
Diagnosed in 2017 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, he had already undergone four other types of cancer treatments, including chemo and radiotherapy. Nothing worked and tumors spread to the bones. As a result, Vamberto suffered from intense and constant pain, limited mobility and extreme weakness. When he first arrived at the HCRP, he was receiving large doses of morphine as a palliative treatment to relieve his symptoms.
With a prognosis of less than a year to live and with no more conventional treatment alternatives, Vamberto met all the conditions to be able to receive an innovative treatment, still not widespread, made with CAR-T technology and researched at the Center for Cell-based Therapy of the Blood Center of Ribeirão Preto. At the time, the center was coordinated by the hematologist and professor at the University of São Paulo's Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine, Dimas Covas – now president of Instituto Butantan.
The medical team and the researchers who administered Vamberto’s treatment reported that he stopped experiencing severe pain four days after the therapy and that he was able to walk again after a week. In less than 20 days, he had no more cancer cells in his body. He was admitted to the HCRP on September 9, 2019 and was discharged on October 12 of the same year.
CAR-T technology consists of reprogramming our defense cells to recognize tumor cells present in the body. Vamberto was the first patient in Latin America to receive the treatment. The method had already been tested in 2012, in the United States, on a six-year-old girl who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Vamberto Luiz de Castro was considered “virtually” cured of cancer, since he would have to be followed up for another 10 years by the HCRP team to check the possible development of new tumors. However, he died a few months after leaving Ribeirão Preto, in a domestic accident.
Cell therapy of Butantan
Later this year, Butantan, in partnership with the HCRP, the School of Medicine of São Paulo and the School of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, both of the University of São Paulo, will carry out the clinical trial of the CAR-T cell therapy initially in 30 patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, one of the most common types of blood cancer. The perspective is that the technology should enter phase 1 of clinical research, which aims to assess the safety of the treatment, in October this year. The study will be carried out at the Nucel (São Paulo, SP) and Nutera (Ribeirão Preto, SP) centers, built especially for the initiative.