(c) 2017, The Washington Post.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The call from a friend rang in on Mark Crider’s line at around 10 a.m. Tuesday: President Donald Trump was going to be in Corpus Christi at the firehouse across the way.

“He said, ‘The Secret Service knows there’s about 100 loaded guns in your house and they know you’d let them use ‘em if they need to,” Crider said, relaying the gentle ribbing of his longtime friend.

With Trump expected in about an hour, Crider rolled his wheelchair out front, planted himself next to a fence and waited.

The cop cars came in droves, filing out to the road, eventually closing it off in anticipation that the president of the United States would soon roll through.

It wasn’t long before Crider was joined by hundreds of people, a typical Trumpian mixture of protesters, enthusiastic supporters and curious passersby who crowded the streets to catch a glimpse.

Corpus Christi, population 300,000-something, is a relatively small community in Texas. And Annavile is an even smaller neighborhood where just about everyone knows one another and word spreads fast.

“We’ve lived out here forever you might say,” Crider said. “I guess they started calling one another. And a lot of our friends showed up – old classmates.”

News that Trump would arrive at a local firehouse spread like wildfire over the next few hours. Friends called friends. Cars of people passing through stopped, then parked further down the road as their occupants trekked back to the fire station to check out the commotion.

Quickly, Crider was joined by friends, neighbors and hecklers curious eager to see the man who had dominated their televisions and newspapers for two years.

“This is nuts – he’s literally down the street from us,” said one man who hustled through the growing crowd gathering around the fire station as his friend recorded their adventure on a live Facebook video. “We see this man everywhere on the news constantly, and he’s here.”

Walking down the closed streets were hundreds of others, parents and their children, grandparents – all on a pilgrimage to see the spectacle.

Back at the Annaville Fire Station 5, Crider’s wife, Sandra, had brought out her “Make America Great Again” flag, which became an anchor for Trump supporters who were being penned in with police tape as local officers and Secret Service agents kept a watchful eye.

Word had spread on social media though live video and pictures, by word of mouth as police officers redirecting drivers informed them that the president would be here soon.

A small Texas town that rarely receives presidential visits suddenly had something very important going on.

“The people just started getting wind of it and they showed up,” said Samuel Dalton, a local Republican Party official, who had received a call the day before Trump’s visit asking him to drive a van in the presidential motorcade. “It was just remarkable and everybody appreciated very much the president coming and trying to get a feel of what are the needs.”

Around 12:45 p.m., Trump emerged in his signature “USA” campaign hat and the crowd exploded in chats of “USA! USA!”, “Texas Strong!”, and “Trump! Trump!”

It had the feel of a rally because in a sense it was one.

“Thank you, everybody. What a crowd! What a turnout!” Trump remarked from his perch behind two black SUVs that the Secret Service had carefully positioned in front of a firetruck.

Trump had chosen Corpus Christi, located in a county he had won over Hillary Clinton by a sliver in 2016, in an effort to avoid taxing local law enforcement who were busy rescuing stranded Texans in the path of the monster storm.

Dalton, who only knew about the firehouse visit when the motorcade rolled onto the street, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see the crowd turn out for Trump. He chalked it out to the strength of support among Trump’s core supporters and a feeling of solidarity among Texans reeling from a disaster of historic proportions.

Back in the thick of the gathering, he could be seen, but not heard. Snipers stood watch on the roof above, scanning the swollen crowd.

“What is he saying? What is he saying?” a voice called out.

Others began trying to call for quiet: “Shhhhhhhhhhh!”

Trump was speaking through a microphone, but no one could hear a thing.

Observers watching the footage on television would remark the the president failed to mention the victims of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath, only his crowd size.

For the mixture of supporters and onlookers, however, they could only see Trump, standing in front of a firetruck, waving a Texas flag.

A few minutes later, Trump was back in his van and with a wave of his hand, and as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.

harvey-visit

Keywords: Donald Trump, Corpus Christie

President Trump has broadcast his involvement in the government response to Hurricane Harvey loud and clear, and been accused of keeping the focus on him as Texans respond to the record storm. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The call from a friend rang in on Mark Crider’s line at around 10:00 a.m. Tuesday: President Trump was going to be in Corpus Christi at the firehouse across the way.

“He said, ‘The Secret Service knows there’s about 100 loaded guns in your house and they know you’d let them use ’em if they need to,” Crider said, relaying the gentle ribbing of his longtime friend.

With Trump expected in about an hour, Crider rolled his wheelchair out front, planted himself next to a fence and waited.

The cop cars came in droves, filing out to the road, eventually closing it off in anticipation that the president of the United States would soon roll through.

It wasn’t long before Crider was joined by hundreds of people, a typical Trumpian mixture of protesters, enthusiastic supporters and curious passersby who crowded the streets to catch a glimpse.

Corpus Christi, population 300,000-something, is a relatively small community in Texas. And Annavile is an even smaller neighborhood where just about everyone knows one another and word spreads fast.

“We’ve lived out here forever you might say,” Crider said. “I guess they started calling one another. And a lot of our friends showed up — old classmates.”

News that Trump would arrive at a local firehouse spread like wildfire over the next few hours. Friends called friends. Cars of people passing through stopped, then parked further down the road as their occupants trekked back to the fire station to check out the commotion.

Quickly, Crider was joined by friends, neighbors and hecklers curious eager to see the man who had dominated their televisions and newspapers for two years.

“This is nuts — he’s literally down the street from us,” said one man who hustled through the growing crowd gathering around the fire station as his friend recorded their adventure on a live Facebook video. “We see this man everywhere on the news constantly, and he’s here.”

Walking down the closed streets were hundreds of others, parents and their children, grandparents — all on a pilgrimage to see the spectacle.

Back at the Annaville Fire Station 5, Crider’s wife, Sandra, had brought out her “Make America Great Again” flag, which became an anchor for Trump supporters who were being penned in with police tape as local officers and Secret Service agents kept a watchful eye.

Word had spread on social media though live video and pictures, by word of mouth as police officers redirecting drivers informed them that the president would be here soon.

Annaville, a small Texas community that rarely receives presidential visits suddenly had something very important going on.

“The people just started getting wind of it and they showed up,” said Samuel Dalton, a local Republican Party official, who had received a call the day before Trump’s visit asking him to drive a van in the presidential motorcade. “It was just remarkable and everybody appreciated very much the president coming and trying to get a feel of what are the needs.”

Around 12:45 p.m., Trump emerged in his signature “USA” campaign hat and the crowd exploded in chats of “USA! USA!”, “Texas Strong!”, and “Trump! Trump!”

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” President Trump said to residents of Corpus Christi, Tex., on Aug. 29, while touring the damage from Hurricane Harvey. “We’re going to get you back and operating immediately,” he pledged. (The Washington Post)

It had the feel of a rally because in a sense it was one.

“Thank you, everybody. What a crowd! What a turnout!” Trump remarked from his perch behind two black SUVs that the Secret Service had carefully positioned in front of a firetruck.

Trump had chosen Corpus Christi, located in a county he had won over Hillary Clinton by a sliver in 2016, in an effort to avoid taxing local law enforcement who were busy rescuing stranded Texans in the path of the monster storm.

Dalton, who only knew about the firehouse visit when the motorcade rolled onto the street, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see the crowd turn out for Trump. He chalked it out to the strength of support among Trump’s core supporters and a feeling of solidarity among Texans reeling from a disaster of historic proportions.

Back in the thick of the gathering, he could be seen, but not heard. Snipers stood watch on the roof above, scanning the swollen crowd.

“What is he saying? What is he saying?” a voice called out.

Others began trying to call for quiet: “Shhhhhhhhhhh!”

Trump was speaking through a microphone, but no one could hear a thing.

Observers watching the footage on television would remark the the president failed to mention the victims of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath, only his crowd size.

For the mixture of supporters and onlookers, however, they could only see Trump, standing in front of a firetruck, waving a Texas flag.

A few minutes later, Trump was back in his van and with a wave of his hand, and as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.

President Trump visited Texas Aug. 29, after Hurricane Harvey struck parts of the state. Here’s how his predecessors handled natural disasters. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Opening a new era in cancer care, US health officials have approved a breakthrough treatment that genetically engineers patients’ own blood cells into an army of assassins to seek and destroy childhood leukaemia

The Food and Drug Administration called the approval historic, the first gene therapy to hit the US market. Made from scratch for every patient, it’s one of a wave of “living drugs” under development to fight additional blood cancers and other tumours, too. 

Novartis Pharmaceuticals set the price for its one-time infusion of so-called “CAR-T cells” at $475,000, but said there would be no charge for patients who didn’t show a response within a month. 

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who treated the first child with CAR-T cell therapy — a girl who’d been near death but now is cancer-free for five years and counting. “That’s enormously exciting.” 

​CAR-T treatment uses gene therapy techniques not to fix disease-causing genes but to turbocharge T cells, immune system soldiers that cancer too often can evade. Researchers filter those cells from a patient’s blood, reprogramme them to harbour a “chimeric antigen receptor” or CAR that zeroes in on cancer, and grow hundreds of millions of copies. Returned to the patient, the revved-up cells can continue multiplying to fight disease for months or years. 

It’s a completely different way to harness the immune system than popular immunotherapy drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors” that treat a variety of cancers by helping the body’s natural T cells better spot tumours. CAR-T cell therapy gives patients stronger T cells to do that job. 

“We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogramme a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. 

The first CAR-T version, developed by Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania, is approved for use by several hundred patients a year who are desperately ill with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or ALL. It strikes more than 3,000 children and young adults in the U.S. each year and while most survive, about 15 percent relapse despite today’s best treatments. 

In a key study of 63 advanced patients, 83 percent went into remission soon after receiving the CAR-T cells. Importantly, it’s not clear how long that benefit lasts: Some patients did relapse months later. The others still are being tracked to see how they fare long-term. 

Still, “a far higher percentage of patients go into remission with this therapy than anything else we’ve seen to date with relapsed leukaemia,” said Dr. Ted Laetsch of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, one of the study sites. “I wouldn’t say we know for sure how many will be cured yet by this therapy. There certainly is a hope” that some will be. 

Most patients suffered side effects that can be gruelling, even life-threatening. An immune overreaction called “cytokine release syndrome” can trigger high fevers, plummeting blood pressure and in severe cases organ damage, side effects that require sophisticated care to help patients without blocking the cancer attack. The FDA designated a treatment for those side effects Wednesday. 

“This is remarkable technology,” said Dr Mikkael Sekeres of the American Society of Haematology. But, he cautioned that CAR-T “isn’t a panacea.” 

Among concerns, sometimes leukaemia can develop resistance, and sometimes patients worsen while waiting for their new cells, said Sekeres, who directs the Cleveland Clinic’s leukaemia programme and wasn’t involved with CAR-T testing. 

“Unfortunately leukaemia grows so rapidly that it can evade even the smartest of our technologies,” he added. 

To better ensure patient safety, the FDA is requiring Novartis to offer CAR-T therapy only through medical centers specially trained and certified to handle the complicated treatment. Novartis expects to have 32 centres around the country, mostly in large cities, running by year’s end, with the first 20 offering care within the next month. 

Patients’ collected immune cells will be frozen and shipped to a Novartis factory in New Jersey that creates each dose, a process the company says should take about three weeks. The $475,000 price tag doesn’t include the cost of needed hospitalizations, travel to a certified hospital and other expenses. 

On a conference call Wednesday, Novartis executives said the company is working with the Medicaid program and private insurers and expects broad coverage, and will offer some financial assistance with such things as travel costs. But they didn’t promise all patients would be able to get the therapy. 

For some patients, the new CAR-T therapy might replace bone marrow transplants that cost more than half a million dollars, noted Grupp, who led the Novartis study. 

“I don’t want to be an apologist for high drug prices in the US,” Grupp stressed. But if it’s the last treatment they need, “that’s a really significant one-time investment in their wellness, especially in kids who have a whole lifetime ahead of them.” 

“This is a turning point in the fight” against ALL, said Penn’s Dr Carl June, who pioneered the therapy. 

But he and other researchers say thousands more patients eventually may benefit. Kite Pharma’s similar CAR-T brand, developed by the National Cancer Institute, is expected to win approval later this year to treat aggressive lymphoma, and Juno Therapeutics and other companies are studying their own versions against blood cancers including multiple myeloma. 

Scientists around the country also are trying to make CAR-T therapies that could fight more common solid tumours such as brain, breast or pancreatic cancers — a harder next step. 

“Although narrow in scope, today’s FDA ruling is a milestone,” said Dr. David Maloney of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, whose team has worked with Juno and is researching CAR-T in a variety of cancers. “Approvals are an important step, but they’re just the beginning.” 

AP