Researchers found that using immune cells to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL improves the patients’ condition on the long run.
Some patients involved in the study were in full remission, while for others, the new therapy, dubbed CTL019, improved their life expectancy.
In a proof-of-concept study, researchers used the patients’ T cells – key for immune responses in the body – to seek and eventually kill the cancer cells. T cells are collected from the patients, reprogrammed to attack and reduce the number of blood cancer cells and transplanted in the patient.
According to lead researcher on the study, Dr. David Porter, who is the director of blood and marrow transplantation with the University of Pennsylvania Hospital:
“This is a new, ultra-personalized and precision approach to treating cancer”.
CTL019 is a new beam of hope for patients suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer that is deemed the most common in adults. Typically, the life expectancy of patients with CLL varies from 2 to 20 years.
While conventional treatments targeting chronic lymphocytic leukemia are available, they do little to cure the disease. For instance, stem cell transplants, which is one of the latest approaches is a successful therapy. Yet, not all patients may benefit from the procedure, as they are not eligible.
As such, CTL019 comes to fill a gap in possible therapy options for CLL patients. The current study is a follow-up for a 2010 study during which 14 patients received the CTL019 treatment. At the time, all 14 participants in the study had chronic lymphocytic leukemia and had undergone other conventional therapies.
During the follow-up the researchers found that eight of 14 patients responded astonishingly well to CTL019. Four patients were found to be in complete remission. One had unfortunately died after 21 months, yet the death was due to an infection suffered after a different surgical procedure.
Four of the eight patients responded partially to the immune cell therapy. The average response lasted approximately seven months. In the follow-up sessions, two patients passed away as the disease progressed. The deaths occurred at 10 and 27 months after the CTL019 treatment was received.
Another six patients did not respond to the therapy. The T cells transplanted in their body did not follow the expected expansion necessary to attack the cancer cells. Nonetheless, cellular therapy such as this one is deemed to have a great potential, as the immune cells act as a ‘living drug’, persisting in the patient’s bodies for years and continuing to expand and be functional.
The therapy is still being perfected and studies are incipient. Yet, CTL019 has the potential to become one of the most successful therapies to fight chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
The results of the follow-up study can be found in the Science Translational Medicine.
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