A new treatment which trains the immune system to attack cancer has shown “extraordinary” results – and could be a potential breakthrough in curing the disease.
The technique involves removing immune cells called T-cells from patients, tagging them with “receptor” molecules that target cancer, and putting them back into the body in an infusion. Once attached to the T-cells, the “receptor” molecules reduce the ability of the cancer to shield itself from the body’s natural immune system.
The new treatment has been trialled in several small studies in patients who were suffering from ‘liquid’ blood cancers. In one study 94% of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia saw their symptoms vanish completely.
And patients with other blood cancers saw response rates of more than 80%, with half experiencing complete remission.
Lead scientist Professor Stanley Riddell, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said:
“Most of the patients in our trial would be projected to have two to five months to live.”
Professor Riddell hopes to progress to patients with solid tumours, but points out that this will be challenging.
Professor Riddell is clear to point out that much more work is still required and it is not clear how long the symptom-free patients will remain in remission.
Although the results of the initial small studies have been positive, some of those treated have suffered severe side effects. Seven of the patients suffered an immune reaction to the treatment, called cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and required treatment in intensive care. Two of these patients sadly died. The scientists are now trying to find ways to reduce the risk from CRS.
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