Hawaii Pacific Health Partners with University of Hawaii Cancer Center to Launch New Cell Therapy for Cancer Patients in Hawaii


Cancer patient with doctor sitting bedside.

Hawaii Pacific Health (HPH) is embarking on a new cancer treatment by introducing Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy (CAR T-cell therapy) to Hawaii in partnership with the University of Hawaii (UH) Cancer Center.

“CAR T-cell therapy is a very innovative and specialized type of cellular immunotherapy where we're able to use a patient’s own immune cells, genetically modify them, and use those modified cells to fight cancer,” Dr. Stephanie Si Lim, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, medical director of the cellular immunotherapy program at Hawaii Pacific Health and assistant researcher at the UH Cancer Center, said. “It is very different from traditional chemotherapy because it targets cancer cells with more precision.”

Dr. Lim has spent the last two-and-a-half years building the cellular immunotherapy program with HPH and the UH Cancer Center. CAR T-cell therapy is now offered to children with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and adults with B-cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma. This new treatment allows some of the sickest cancer patients to stay in Hawaii with family and friends for care instead of traveling to the mainland. Here are a few milestones of this breakthrough program for the state:

  • March 26, 2021: The first CAR T-cell clinical trial opened for qualifying pediatric patients at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
  • May 22, 2023: The first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved CAR T-cell therapy is available for use for pediatric and adult patients in Hawaii.
  • Aug. 22, 2023: The first adult patient is infused with CAR T-cells at Straub Medical Center.
  • Oct. 1, 2023: Adult patient who was infused with CAR T-cells remains in remission despite having had multiple relapsed lymphoma prior to receiving CAR T-cell therapy.

“Through HPH and the UH Cancer Center’s joint efforts, we are excited to offer this important and lifesaving therapy to patients with difficult-to-treat cancers,” Dr. Lim said. “We look forward to our ongoing collaboration to expand the availability of groundbreaking FDA-approved oncology products and clinical trials for our community here in Hawaii."

Clinical trials are a way for patients to access the newest medications years before they are widely available for general use. At Kapiolani, about 85% of pediatric cancer patients are in clinical trials through the medical center’s membership in the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored Children’s Oncology Group.

As Hawaii’s only full-service children’s hospital, Kapiolani is also the only dedicated site in the state for bone marrow collection and transplants for children. Over the last decade, Kapiolani has systematically developed the critical infrastructure needed to support new technologies such as CAR T-cell therapy, including its Apheresis Program, which provides the cell collection capability necessary for this process.

HPH is proud to be a community partner of the Hawaii Cancer Consortium (HCC). Spearheaded by the UH Cancer Center — an NCI-designated facility — the HCC strives to enhance cancer outcomes for residents of Hawaii as well as those in the broader Pacific Rim region. Revolutionary advancements in cancer research have notably ameliorated patient survival rates and overall well-being for those affected and their families. The consortium's central aim is to develop groundbreaking approaches that translate scientific insights into pragmatic clinical solutions.

A prestigious cancer care accreditation now recognizes HPH as the first health care system in Hawai‘i to be an Integrated Network Cancer Program by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. The commission evaluates more than 35 standards, including specialized credentials for medical staff, specific procedures for cancer, data collection and research, and patient services ranging from psychological and nutrition to palliative care. Nearly 3,000 men, women and children are diagnosed or treated for cancer every year through HPH’s four medical centers and more than 70 locations statewide.

Photo: Dr. Stephanie Si Lim, pediatric hematologist/oncologist and medical director of the cellular immunotherapy program at Hawaii Pacific Health, and assistant researcher at the UH Cancer Center, with Hawaii’s first adult CAR T-cell patient.

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Liz Chun Uyehara