Lincoln man taking part in unique clinical trial to fight blood cancer

Published: Nov. 26, 2019 at 6:56 PM CST
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A Lincoln man is one of only 180 patients worldwide taking part in a clinical trial to fight a specific type of blood cancer. He has run out of treatment options.

It's a way for Michael Cox to start over.

“Now I have three birthdays,” he said, as a nurse wrote Happy Birthday on the white dry erase board in his room.

First, there’s his actual birthday 62-years-ago -- then his second birthday when he got a stem cell transplant which beat back the blood cancer for months, and now this...

“If they can learn something and help other people. I’m thrilled,” said Cox.

He's the first myeloma patient to be a part of a clinical trial at Nebraska Medicine's Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. It's called "CAR T-cell" therapy.

“Take my own cells out of me and send them to California and do something to them,” said Cox.

As you can imagine, the science is complicated.

His cells are re-engineered in a lab and then shipped back to Nebraska in dry ice. While we were there, the medical staff began the slow process of warming up his cells in the hallway. Those cells have been taught how to find cancer hidden in the body and destroy it -- harnessing the natural power of our immune system.

“This is a therapy where it has revolutionized the way we treat lymphoma and acute leukemia. We hope to rely on the similar success in this disease as well,” said Nebraska Medicine Oncology Doctor Muhamed Baljevic.

6 days after the treatment, Dr. Baljevic stopped by to see how the patient was doing. Michael Cox was on a business call from his hospital bed.

"The fact that you were on a call -- doing a business meeting -- this tells me immediately that you're thinking," said Dr. Baljevic. That's a good sign along with the walking he's doing.

While Thanksgiving will be spent in the Cancer Center with family from Lincoln, Michael Cox will likely be out next week, just 15 days after getting back his re-engineered cells.

“You go through something like this and there’s lots of joy every day. Things you didn’t see before,” said Cox.

This CAR T-cell therapy for multiple myeloma is in clinical trial now, but medical experts believe it could be going to market in the next six months. That means a greater number of patients could have access to it.

***Spellcheck changed the last name of Michael Cox to Fox in an earlier version. We apologize for the error.