A new way of genetically altering a patient’s cells to fight cancer has helped desperately ill people with leukemia when every other treatment had failed, researchers reported on Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.
The new approach, still experimental, could eventually be given by itself or, more likely, be used in combination treatments … to increase the odds of shutting down the disease.
The research, conducted at the National Cancer Institute, is the latest advance in the fast-growing field of immunotherapy, which fires up the immune system to attack cancer. The new findings build on two similar treatments that were approved by the Food and Drug Administration this year: Kymriah, made by Novartis for leukemia; and Yescarta, by Kite Pharma for lymphoma.
Kymriah and Yescarta require removing millions of each patient’s T-cells — disease-fighting white blood cells — and genetically engineering them to seek and destroy cancer cells. The T-cells are then dripped back into the patient, where they home in on protein molecules called CD19 found on malignant cells in most types of leukemia and lymphoma.
The new treatment differs in a major way: the T-cells are programmed to attack a different target on malignant cells, CD22.
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