Novel immunotherapy brings new hope for cancer patients

New York, Dec 11: Researchers, led by one of Indian-origin, have developed a groundbreaking cancer treatment that genetically engineers a patient's immune system to attack cancer cells.

The novel treatment involves the recently approved CD19-targeting chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy for patients with aggressive large B-cell lymphoma -- blood cancers -- who had failed prior chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation.

To fight cancer, T-cells collected from the patient are sent to a lab, where they are genetically modified to include a gene that instructs the T-cells to target and kill cancer cells. Millions of such genetically modified t-cells are then infused back into the patient.

"With the US Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of this therapy, we believe this is a major advance in the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma and is likely to save or prolong lives of many patients," said Sattva Neelapu, professor at The University of Texas.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that 42 per cent of patients with aggressive large B-cell lymphoma remained in remission at 15 months following treatment with "axi-cel" marketed as Yescarta.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that out of the 111 patients with aggressive large B-cell lymphoma from 22 centres across US, 42 per cent of patients remained in remission at 15 months following treatment with "axi-cel" marketed as Yescarta.

After being infused back into patients' bodies, these newly built "hunter" cells both multiply and attack, targeting cells that express a protein called CD19.

These hunter cells can grow to more than 10,000 new cells for each single engineered cell patients receive, producing high remission rates while surviving in the body for years.

"This study demonstrated that axi-cel provides remarkable improvement in outcomes over existing therapies for these patients who have no curative options," Neelapu added

However, while the therapy could potentially cure patients who have run out of other options, it also can cause severe side effects, cautioned Patrick Stiff, Director at Loyola University in Chicago.

Hence doctors need to carefully inform patients of the pros and cons of this new therapy if it is presented as an option.

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