Save 20% on your next Cambridge Bioethics and Law online purchase
Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_95395

T-cell therapy leads to 'dramatic remission' of blood cancers

22 February 2016
Appeared in BioNews 840

Trials using genetically-engineered immune cells have shown 'extraordinary results' in treating blood cancers in terminally ill patients, say researchers.

In one trial, 94 percent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) went into complete remission. Patients with other blood cancers had response rates greater than 80 percent, and more than half experienced complete remission.

'This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients,' said Dr Stanley Riddell of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who presented the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

The therapy involves removing T cells – a type of white blood cell – from patients and genetically modifying them to express a type of synthetic receptor that allows them to target specific cancerous cells. Patients then undergo chemotherapy to deplete their existing T cells, after which the engineered cells are infused back into the body.

'Essentially what this process does is it genetically reprogrammes the T cell to seek out and recognise and destroy the patient's tumour cells,' Dr Riddell told BBC News.

In his team's research, 27 of 29 patients with ALL showed no trace of cancer in their bone marrow following the infusions, and 19 out of 30 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients experienced partial or complete responses.

He added: '[The patients] were really at the end of the line in terms of treatment options, and yet a single dose of this therapy put more than 90 percent of these patients in complete remission, where we can't detect any of these leukaemia cells.'

T cell therapy is considered as a last resort because reprogramming the immune system can cause serious side effects that can result in patients needing intensive care, and sometimes causes death.

In the ALL studies, the researchers selected specific subsets of T cells with the greatest potential for proliferation within the body. This allowed them to lower the doses given in an attempt to reduce side effects while maintaining efficacy.

Overall, 20 patients suffered symptoms of fever, hypotension and neurotoxicity, and two died, but the scientists noted that chemotherapy had previously failed in all of them.

T-cell therapy works best on tumours of the blood and bone marrow, which are known as 'liquid tumours'. Until now, the trials have only targeted certain blood cancers, and the scientists say in future research will need to explore if it could be used on solid tumours. They will also need to track how long patients remain in remission.

Dr Alan Worsley of Cancer Research UK was quite reserved in his assessment of the findings. Speaking to BBC News, he described the research as a 'baby step'.

'We've been working for a while using this type of technology, genetically engineering cells. So far it's really shown some promise in this type of blood cancer,' said Dr Worsley.

He added: 'The real challenge now is how do we get this to work for other cancers, how do we get it to work for what's known as solid cancers, cancers in the tissue.'

The findings have not yet appeared in a scientific journal, but an article on the ALL research is currently under review and pending publication.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Cancer researchers claim 'extraordinary results' using T-cell therapy
Guardian |  15 February 2016
Dramatic remissions seen in immunotherapy trial of blood cancer patients
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (press release) |  14 February 2016
Engineering T Cells for Safe and Effective Cancer Immunotherapy
AAAS 2016 Annual Meeting |  14 February 2016
Excitement at new cancer treatment
BBC News |  14 February 2016
Stan Riddell, Fred Hutch cancer immunotherapy innovator, to present at AAAS Annual Meeting
Eurekalert (press release) |  14 February 2016
T-cell therapy offers lasting cure prospects, scientists say
The Independent |  16 February 2016
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
4 September 2017 - by Meetal Solanki 
The world's first cancer treatment which uses a patient's own genetically modified immune cells has been approved...
6 March 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
A trial gene therapy has reversed terminal blood cancer in a third of patients...
13 February 2017 - by Emma Laycock 
A new blood test can predict how well patients with myelodysplastic syndrome will respond to bone-marrow transplants...
25 January 2017 - by Dr Loredana Guglielmi 
Doctors at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital have used genome editing to successfully treat two children with leukaemia...
12 December 2016 - by Ayala Ochert and Ebtehal Moussa 
Researchers have successfully treated a woman with colon cancer using her own immune cells to target a cancer-causing gene that had previously been considered 'undruggable'...
9 November 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
An experimental cell-based treatment using gene editing, previously only tested on mice, has successfully reversed advanced leukaemia in a one-year-old girl...
27 July 2015 - by Daniel Malynn 
In Great Ormond Street, we meet three families all facing rare genetic immune diseases. The documentary witnesses the utter anguish the families go through and the heartbreaking decisions parents have to make...
13 April 2015 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
A new type of cancer vaccine that enriches the immune system with tailor-made anti-tumour antibodies has shown early signs of promise...
19 May 2014 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has presented trial data from an experimental lung cancer drug...
17 December 2012 - by Joseph Jebelli 
A seven-year-old girl with a highly aggressive form of leukaemia may have been 'cured' by an experimental therapy that harnesses the body's immune system to seek out and destroy the disease....
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.