New grandfather says first-of-its-kind lymphoma drug led to 5-year remission

"I wouldn't have a chance to see my grandson if I had given up," he said. "Cancer is not the same. Don't give up."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023 6:33AM
SoCal man says first-of-its-kind lymphoma drug led to 5-year remission
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Doctors gave Juan Yee a year to live. Now, he said a first-of-its-kind lymphoma drug led to a 5-year remission: "I wouldn't have a chance to see my grandson if I had given up. Cancer is not the same. Don't give up."

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A newly-approved cancer drug is giving patients hope for remission.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared a medication that is treating the most common type of lymphoma.

Juan Yee, a 49-year-old from Southern California, said his cancer returned third time, but refused to go through chemo again. He asked his doctor how long he had.

"You can have about a year, we don't know. My wife didn't even know I was going through cancer again. I didn't tell anybody," Yee said.

Follicular lymphoma is the most common type of low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"It's a lymphoma that we can get into remission now using chemotherapy treatment, but it will come back," said hematologic oncologist Dr. Elizabeth Budde at City of Hope.

When Yee met Budde, his outlook changed. She was the pivotal trial principal investigator for a new-targeted immuno-therapy known as a T-cell engager.

"It's like putting a pair of glasses on to the T-cell so that it will be able to recognize the one's own lymphoma cells," she said.

Mosunetuzumab wakes up tired or dysfunctional T-cells and gives them laser focus so they can zero in on a protein located on the cancer.

"In this particular case, it's the CD-20 target or protein on the surface of lymphoma cells," Budde said.

Unlike chemo, Yee said the side effects were minimal.

"I was happy. Since day one, I didn't feel anything. The swelling of the lymph nodes went down right away. I was surprised," Yee said.

Thanks to the participation of patients like Yee, the FDA granted the drug Lunsumio, accelerated approval to be used on follicular lymphoma patients who've undergone two rounds of chemo. Budde said the drug is now being tested as a first-line treatment.

"Based on what we understand and how the immune system works. Now, we have a lot of reason to believe that this is going to be a better treatment," Budde said.

Yee is now a grandfather and is grateful Lunsumio came along when it did.

"I wouldn't have a chance to see my grandson if I had given up. Cancer is not the same anymore. Don't give up. There's always something there to help you," Yee said.