News and Events

Against All Odds: CAR-T Therapy at Rambam Saves Desperate Cancer Patient

Publication Date: 3/23/2023 11:00 AM
Critically ill in St. Petersburg, Russia, 20-year-old Kalim Agrakov was not responding to cancer treatment. However, a breakthrough procedure offered at Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam) in Haifa, Israel, saved his life.
(L-R) Dr. Ofrat Beyar-Katz, Liat Sharvit, Kalim Agrakov, and Professor Tsila Zuckerman. Photography: Rambam HCC.(L-R) Dr. Ofrat Beyar-Katz, Liat Sharvit, Kalim Agrakov, and Professor Tsila Zuckerman. Photography: Rambam HCC.

Kalim Agrakov was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His doctors at a hospital in St. Petersburg had run out of effective treatment options. Telling him that he only had a few months to live, they sent him home.

Agrakov knew there were hospitals in Israel that offered alternative treatments. Weak, but determined and courageous, he decided to immigrate to Israel. Following his arrival in August 2022, Agrakov was immediately referred to Rambam’s Joan and Sanford Weill Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology where he received treatment. He then was referred to the Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation Institute. A few days later, he met with Dr. Ofrat Beyar-Katz, hematologist and director of Rambam’s Cell Therapy Service, who explains “Kalim was desperate and exhausted from all the failed treatments he had received in Russia.”

The medical team treating Agrakov decided to treat him with CAR-T cell therapy (CAR-T) – a revolutionary blood cancer treatment that is but one of many cancer therapies offered at Rambam. The hospital is also the only one in Northern Israel authorized by Israel’s Ministry of Health to offer CAR-T. Fortunately for Agrakov, Rambam’s multidisciplinary Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation team was ideally positioned to offer him one of the most beneficial treatments available today.

In a short, painless, and safe procedure, cancerous T-cells are taken from the patient’s blood, multiplied, and reprogrammed in the laboratory to recognize and attack cancer cells. The reprogrammed T-cells are then returned to the patient’s body. Upon detecting the diseased cancer cells, the T-cells effectively intercept and destroy them.

Now in remission, Agrakov, a musician and songwriter who dreams of becoming a rock star, recently celebrated his 20th birthday. He recounts, “I was very depressed and did not believe I would survive. My father told me that immigrating to Israel was my last chance. I didn’t hesitate, boarded a plane, and made the move.

“I never believed that strangers would help me recover. The doctors at Rambam saved me. I got my life back, and I am now the best version of myself. My girlfriend, Margaret, is supposed to return to Russia next month, but I hope she can remain here in Israel and start her own immigration process. She has been with me through many tough moments,” he concludes.

This article is based on a Hebrew story that first appeared in YNET news.