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Jamie’s Story: TIL Saved My Life

Guest blog post by Jamie Goldfarb, stage 4 melanoma survivor, clinical trial participant and melanoma advocate:

I was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in January 2011.  It was the day I was supposed to return to work from maternity leave. My son was just 11 weeks old.  When my doctor gave me the diagnosis, he looked me in the eyes and told me he would do everything within his power to buy me six more months with my baby. At the time, only high dose IL-2 and chemotherapy were approved for metastatic melanoma. However, it was a very exciting time for melanoma treatment research and there were several promising clinical trials available, many for drugs that are approved for use today. After consulting several key opinion leaders across the country, I decided to join a clinical trial for individualized TIL therapy at the National Cancer Institute.  

TIL works by using your immune system to fight the cancer. Using a piece of your own tumor, the active lymphocytes found within are replicated and these new “fighter cells” are grown in the laboratory. During the first five days of treatment, high-dose chemotherapy is used to kill your current immune system. Once your red blood cell count is down to zero (complete neutropenia), you are given the new cells via IV transfusion. In most cases, you are then given high-dose IL-2 to act as a call to action for the new fighter cells, causing them to race around your body and find a tumor to kill.  

At my worst, I had more than 40 tumors throughout my body, including in my liver and pancreas. At the time, stage 4 melanoma had just a 15% five-year survival rate. That meant that I had just a 15% chance of seeing my son’s first day of kindergarten. Because I enrolled in this clinical trial, because I received TIL therapy, I not only held his hand as he stepped on the bus for his first day, but I have every confidence that I will see him graduate college, I will see him grow into the amazing person that he already is, I will be there each and every day. TIL saved my life.  

We are now on the precipice of the individualized TIL’s approval for use for people with metastatic melanoma, and other solid tumor cancers. Additionally, in March 2022, the FDA announced an Investigational New Drug approval for TALEN®-Edited TIL (or genetically modified TIL) for metastatic melanoma and Stage III or IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. It is an amazingly exciting time for patients everywhere, from everyone who needs just a little more hope, just one more option to those who are newly diagnosed and looking for the best treatment option with which to begin.