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Landmark study shows promising results for autoimmune diseases

OHSU enrolls three patients in RNA cell therapy study
Nizar Chahin, M.D., assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of neuromuscular treatment for OHSU Health. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
Nizar Chahin, M.D., assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of neuromuscular treatment for OHSU Health. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

A new form of therapy targeting a debilitating autoimmune neurological disease shows promising results in a clinical trial involving 14 participants, including three at Oregon Health & Science University.

The study published today in The Lancet Neurology.

Cartesian Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, organized the multisite clinical trial using a form of chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR-T therapy, to treat generalized myasthenia gravis, or MG, an autoimmune disease that can cause weakness, double vision and problems speaking, chewing, swallowing and breathing.

“I really believe this is going to be a breakthrough treatment in myasthenia gravis, which affects tens of thousands of people worldwide,” said co-author Nizar Chahin, M.D., assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of neuromuscular treatment for OHSU Health. “We treat hundreds of people with this condition at OHSU. Most respond to existing treatments, but in 10% to 20% of cases — those known as refractory — this new treatment may offer profound relief.”

Kylie Swenson, OHSU clinical trial patient
Kylie Swenson, 39, is an OHSU clinical trial participant who lives in Central Point. The clinical trial uses a form of chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR-T, to treat generalized myasthenia gravis, or MG, a debilitating autoimmune neurological disease. (Courtesy of Kylie Swenson)

That’s certainly the case for Kylie Swenson, a 39-year-old OHSU clinical trial participant who lives in Central Point.

Swenson, a professional tattoo artist and mother of two who was diagnosed with MG as a teenager, had struggled for years with severe muscle weakness, fatigue and weight loss. Her neurologist in Medford eventually referred her to OHSU, where Chahin enrolled her in the Cartesian clinical trial. She underwent a series of six infusions between June and September of last year.

Beginning in January, she began to notice steady improvements.

“I can walk, I can work, I can lift things now with almost normal people’s strength,” Swenson said. “At this point, it’s clear that it works. I know that I still have this disease, but right now I’m just riding it out and hoping it could even be a cure eventually.”

Funding for the study was supported by Cartesian Therapeutics and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.

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