Immunotherapy treatment for advanced leukaemia shows promise

29 April 2016

In a new trial, twenty-seven out of twenty-nine patients go into remission after infusion of genetically modified T-cells.

Encouraging results from a small, early phase trial demonstrate the potential of using genetically modified cells from the bodies’ own immune system to combat cancer. 

The authors of trial – published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation – specifically chose patients who were suffering from advanced cancer, which had already proven to be resistant to treatment. The T-cells were extracted from the patients' bodies, and genetically modified to express a synthetic receptor molecule known as a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). A molecule designed to enable immune cells to identify specific cancers and destroy them. The cells were then multiplied and administered to the patients following a course of chemotherapy.

The participants of the trial were then evaluated several weeks after completing treatment. Using high sensitivity testing the team was not able to find any trace of the cancer in twenty seven out of the twenty nine patients’ bone marrow. For some, the remission was only temporary: five patients relapsed again, and were treated again with a larger dose of the modified cells, but without further effect. Whilst the results are extremely encouraging, the team cautions that the potential long term effects are still unknown, and further research is required.

Although still in its early phase, the initial results of this trial are an encouraging first step to proving the potential of immunotherapy in the fight against cancer.

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