Researchers have managed to genetically tweak cancer patient’s immune cells also known as T-Cells to seek and destroy cancer cells within the patients’ bodies. Since in the first clinical trials the breakthrough t-cell therapy for cancer showed unprecedented results, clinicians hailed the new therapy as ‘extraordinary.’
The T-cell therapy was tested on dozens of blood cancer patients, and their remission rates were staggering. During a first trial, 94 percent of lymphoblastic leukemia patients entered symptomatic remission, i.e. they saw their symptoms disappear. Plus, more than 50 percent of patients with other forms of leukemia entered complete remission. This means that the disease was gone.
Dr. Stanley Riddell, a cancer researcher with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, noted that the response rates in really advanced cancer patients are unlike anything medicine has seen before.
The idea of T-cell therapy is not new. Doctors have been taking immune cells from patients’ bodies and engineered them to fight off infections and flu after reintroducing them in the patients’ system for years now. But it is the first time the therapy shows such results in advanced cancer.
Still the therapy may have some drawbacks. Scientists are currently seeking a way to adjust levels of engineered T-cells to lower risk of side-effects. But the recent trial results have convinced just about everyone that the method is a breakthrough. Riddell noted that it worked in patients that had only two to five months left to live.
Dr. Chiara Bonini, a blood cancer researcher at San Raffaele University in Italy, said that she hasn’t seen such results in a cancer therapy in her entire career.
“This is really a revolution,”
The researcher described the T-cell therapy as a ‘living drug.’ She noted that the ‘drug’ will remain in the patient’s body for the rest of their lives. Past studies have shown that patients who had undergone T-cell therapy still had traces of the engineered T-cells in their bodies after 14 years.
Currently, scientists are working on trimming the therapy’s side effects, while they are also monitoring patients to see whether the cancer makes a comeback. The research team explained that T-cell therapy is a treatment of last resort, when chemo and other attempts have failed.
The therapy is associated with life-threatening side-effects such as the cytokine release syndrome (sCRS). Twenty of the patients who took part in the trials developed sCRS, while two of them have died. Still, none of these patients had responded to chemotherapy.
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