Patient out of options responds dramatically to CAR T-cell therapy

By Margaret Tucker

Dec. 1, 2020 – It was the end of 2017, and Ed Morris thought he had run out of options. Two rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant had failed to control his large B cell lymphoma.

Ed Morris Morris was a professor of finance at Lindenwood University, a position he’d held for over 10 years after retiring from a career in investment banking. He’d written two books about his field. He was driven, active, good at seeing opportunities and adapting to new challenges. But now, the lymphoma seemed to have gotten the better of him.

“I think it’s fair to say I was pretty much at death’s door,” Morris said. “The life expectancy wasn’t terribly long.”

Fortunately, Morris’s team at Siteman Cancer Center found one last option for him to try. The FDA had just approved a ground-breaking treatment called CAR T-cell therapy, and Siteman was one of only 16 facilities in world licensed to perform it. Morris’s physician, Washington University medical oncologist Todd Fehniger, MD, PhD, thought it was worth a shot.

“They were working on a way to re-jigger your white blood cells,” Morris says, describing how white blood cells called T-cells are supposed to protect the body from invasion and infection. “My T-cells were not doing a great job in that fight.”

Morris underwent CAR T-cell therapy in March 2018. The process began with an extensive battery of tests and exams to ensure that he was a good candidate for the treatment. Then, his T-cells were collected in Siteman’s pheresis center. As soon as the collection was complete, the cells were whisked away to a laboratory to be re-jiggered to attack Morris’s lymphoma. A few weeks later, they were returned to him in a simple IV infusion.

“The white blood cells were bulked up and ready to go,” Morris said. “They were ready to get in the game.”

The days and weeks following the infusion were difficult. It took Morris’s body awhile to adjust to the CAR T-cells. He valued the exceptional care of his nurses and physicians, who were always available to answer any questions that he and his wife might have.

“The care and the professionalism and the knowledge-base that they have is unparalleled,” Morris said.

Morris was especially grateful that Dr. Fehniger visited him in his hospital room every day.  He was impressed that a physician at a busy research institution such as Siteman would be so personally attentive.

“He’s a remarkable man,” Morris said. “It just meant a lot.”

Today, Morris is retired from his teaching position and looking forward to spending time with his wife, four children and five grandchildren. He recently completed a novel and hopes to continue writing. He’s been in remission for over two years.

“I feel better in every way now than I did before the cancer,” Morris said. “I may be the luckiest man in the world.”