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In the news: New therapy for blood cancer?

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

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It has been announced today that there is possibility for a new targeted therapy, using the body’s own immune cells to attack cancerous ones, which could lead to a “paradigm-shift” in the treatment of patients with cancer.

The treatment involves removing immune cells from the patient, ‘tagging them’ with receptor molecules that target a specific cancer and then infusing the cell back into the body. Although the treatment is in the very early stages of trials, it has shown some very positive results. In a recent study, 94% of 35 acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) patients treated with this type of therapy went into remission. It has also been studied in trials for other blood cancers, including chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and lymphoma.

Lead scientist Professor Stanley Riddell, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, US, said:

“In the laboratory and in clinical trials, we are seeing dramatic responses in patients with tumours that are resistant to conventional high-dose chemotherapy”.

“These are in patients who have failed everything. Most of the patients in our trial would be projected to have two to five months to live. This is extraordinary. This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest – to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients.”

Although this sounds very promising and certainly offers hope to the future of leukaemia treatment, and cancer treatments more broadly, it is important to take in to account that remission is not necessarily a cure, as symptoms can return.

Professor Riddell has emphasised this, stating “We have a long way to go. The response is not always durable. Some of these patients do relapse, we are cognisant of that.”

As with most cancer treatments, notable side effects occurred and it is clear that there is a long way to go before this kind of treatment will become available to patients.

More positively, Professor Stanley Riddell stresses that The early data is unprecedented. This is potentially paradigm-shifting in terms of how we treat them [patients]. I think this is a significant breakthrough, but we have a way to go. We have to understand how we bring it forward earlier into the treatment course of these diseases. We don’t want to wait until patients have failed everything else.”

Esther Wroughton, CARE Director at Leukaemia CARE said:

“Whilst the results appear extremely promising in such advanced patients, it is important to remember that these are only early stage clinical trials. Additionally, not all patients in the trial responded to treatment and some patients also experienced severe side effects.

As such, there is still a lot more research needed before this treatment would ever be routinely used in patients. However, what this does tell us is the potential of immunotherapy, offering new treatment options for patients and hope for the future.”

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