Out of 10 patients, only two patients have not gotten better on the T cell therapy, even though all had stopped responding to conventional treatments. Four patients have had a complete response – their leukemia was eradicated – with the longest so far lasting 28 months. In four other patients, leukemia diminished dramatically.
This is the same treatment that was described in a Nextbigfuture article yesterday. Novartis has the rights to this and is developing it.
“We believe we know why the two patients didn’t respond,” said Penn physician David L. Porter, a cancer and blood specialist. “If we’re right, it’s something we can fix.”
The therapy, culminating 20 years of research, involves genetically engineering T cells – the immune system’s big guns – to attack B cells, the blood component that turns malignant in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Interfering with the immune system, however, is dicey. From the start, it was clear the designer T cells had side effects that caused flulike symptoms.
The T cells flood the body with signaling chemicals called cytokines, particularly interleukin 6. The interleukin, in turn, stimulated cells called macrophages that normally consume cellular debris.
The macrophages can go on a rampage and consume the patients red blood cells.
A drug tocilizumab (Actemra), a new rheumatoid arthritis drug can stop the dangerous side effects.
Doctors now know how to manage the side effects and they are determining when to provide Actemra to reverse the T cells.
SOURCE – Philly Inquirer