With extremely positive results on trials in terminally ill patients, does modified T-cell cancer therapy represent the future of effective cancer therapy?
By: Ringo Bones
Though it is yet to be peer reviewed by other researchers but extremely positive results in early trials had the medical science community hailing T-cell therapy as the future of cancer therapy and some even said that it has put cancer on the run for the first time in the history of cancer treatment. “This is unprecedented” said one researcher after more than half of terminally ill blood cancer patients experienced complete remission in early clinical trials. Scientists are claiming “extraordinary” success with engineering immune cells to target a specific type of blood cancer in their first clinical trials.
Among several dozen patients who would typically have only had months to live, early experimental trials that used the immune system’s T-cells to target cancers had “extraordinary results”. In one study, 94-percent of participants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) saw symptoms vanish completely. Patients with other blood cancers have response rates greater than 80-percent and more than half experienced complete remission. Speaking at an annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researcher Stanley Riddell said: “This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients.”
Modified T-cell cancer therapy is a multi-step process that starts when a sample of the patient’s T-cells (a type of white blood cell involved in fighting infection) is taken from their blood. In the lab, these cells have genetically modified sensor cells (antigen receptors) added to them that can seek out certain cancers. The modified T-cells are then allowed to multiply and then the genetically modified T-cells are infused back into the patient where the new antigen receptors allow them to target and destroy the cancer cells.
“There are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be pessimistic,” said Stanley Riddell of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington State. He added that the researchers believe that lowering the dose of the modified T-cells can reduce the risk of side-effects. Modified T-cell cancer therapy is often considered an option of last resort because reprogramming the immune system can come with dangerous side-effects, including cytokine release syndrome (sCRS) – and overload of defense cells.