Cancer Collaboration Brings Lifesaving John Theurer Cancer Center Clinical Trial to Washington, D.C., Native

June 29, 2021

Salih Williams was able to access leading-edge lymphoma care close to home through a unique collaboration among Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, MedStar Health and John Theurer

When Salih Williams, a 42-year-old Washington, D.C., native, experienced a recurrence of aggressive lymphoma after initial treatment, he needed another treatment option. Williams was a patient at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital being treated by experts from the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

By participating in an advanced clinical trial initiated by Hackensack Meridian Health’s John Theurer Cancer Center — a part of the NCI-designated Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center — Salih was able to receive leading-edge treatment that helped him achieve remission.

Connecting with the Clinical Trial

After Salih’s cancer returned, he was transferred to the care of Pashna Munshi, M.D., associate clinical director of the Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, a joint effort with specialists from John Theurer Cancer Center.

Dr. Munshi determined that Salih would be eligible for a clinical trial studying the safety and efficacy of a combined checkpoint inhibition therapy (CPIT) in patients who have had an autologous stem cell transplant procedure.

“The trial was investigator-initiated at John Theurer Cancer Center, and we were able to open the same clinical trial at our cancer center through our cancer research collaboration,” said Dr. Munshi. “Conversely, John Theurer Cancer Center can also open clinical trials that originate at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.”

According to Dr. Munshi, the trial used a combination of drugs to “release the switches” that prevent the immune system from finding and attacking cancer cells.

“Whenever anyone is exposed to an infection, the body’s T cells engage,” said Dr. Munshi. “However, the T cells have to know when to stop fighting, so the body has checkpoints that shut off the T cells. This clinical trial uses medications to inhibit the checkpoints that turn off the T cells, so the T cells can turn on and find cancer.”

As a result, Salih’s cancer couldn’t hide anymore. His cancer has been in remission for nearly three years, and Dr. Munshi is monitoring his condition through routine long-term follow-up.

“Salih is now doing very well,” said Dr. Munshi.

Advancing the Future of Cancer Care

Because JTCC is part of the NCI-designated Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, patients like Salih can access clinical trials that would otherwise not be available close to home.

“CPIT is the first trial evaluating combined checkpoint inhibition after autologous stem cell transplantation in patients with blood cancers who are at high risk of disease recurrence,” said Michele Donato, M.D., chief, Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Program, John Theurer Cancer Center. “Salih’s participation in this trial is an example of how the collaboration can expand the reach of potentially life-saving clinical trials and improve cancer care outcomes for more patients.”

Additionally, the clinical trial is also advancing cancer care for future patients who may benefit from new treatment options.

“Although more research is needed, the clinical trial showed good initial signals for combined checkpoint inhibition therapy,” said Dr. Munshi.