Written and Researched by Natalie Boquist
Overview: What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a blood and bone marrow cancer that begins when DNA in a single cell in the bone marrow mutates. There are four main types of leukemia, each one with different symptoms and treatment options. Commonly, the treatment for leukemia involves chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapies, and bone marrow transplants. In recent years, new treatments have emerged to supplant, aid, or expand upon these existing therapies (“Leukemia”).
Recent Advances in Leukemia Treatment
In 2017, the FDA approved two new drugs for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer that begins in the bone marrow and quickly moves to the blood.
The first drug, Enasidenib, targets a gene mutation that occurs in tumours of 40% of AML. It was tested on patients who were shown to have this gene and whose cancer did not respond to earlier treatments. This new treatment, in a clinical study of 199 patients, showed responses by the cancer in 40% of patients and remission in 19% of them. The survival rates with this treatment are higher than normal in patients with AML.
Similarly, Vyxeos, a two drug chemotherapy, was approved for patients who had either of two types of AML that commonly had worse prognoses than normal AML. In trials, the median survival of patients treated with Vyxeos was 3.7 months longer than a control group.
Both of these treatments are still being researched, but the hope is that both are able to help people with acute myeloid leukemia live longer lives than with previous treatments. (“Two New Therapies Approved for Acute Myeloid Leukemia”)
Along with recent advances in leukemia treatments, lots of progress is also being made in research for new treatments. On November 24 of this year, the University of California San Diego School of Medicine was approved a 4.1 million dollar grant in order to implement a new chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-Cell therapy. T-cells develop from cells in the bone marrow, and in T-cell therapies the T-cells are collected from a patient then modified in a laboratory to produce CARs on the surface of cells, which, when reintroduced to the patient, attack the targeted cancer cells (“Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy”). The team at UC San Diego aims to take developments made in CAR T-Cells targeting a molecule found in many cancer cells but rarely elsewhere in the body and begin clinical trials after finalizing the product. This new treatment could be used on patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, mantle cell lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and researchers hope it can help people with leukemia and other blood cancers that resist standard treatment options.
Similarly, after testing the treatment on blood cancers, the UC San Diego researchers hope to test it on solid tumours that also produce the targeted molecule (“State Stem Cell Agency Awards $4M for Blood Cancer Immunotherapy at UC San Diego”).
While some types of leukemia are more deadly and spread faster than others, research in the past few years and leading into the future should pave the way for better and longer lives for everyone diagnosed with leukemia.
“Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy.” Lls.Org, https://www.lls.org/treatment/types-treatment/immunotherapy/chimeric-antigen-receptor-car-t-cell-therapy. Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.
“Leukemia.” Clevelandclinic.Org, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4365-leukemia. Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.
“State Stem Cell Agency Awards $4M for Blood Cancer Immunotherapy at UC San Diego.” Ucsd.Edu, https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2021-11-24-state-stem-cell-agency-awards-4-million-for-blood-cancer-immunotherapy-at-uc-san-diego.aspx. Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.
“Two New Therapies Approved for Acute Myeloid Leukemia.” Cancer.Gov, 2017, https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2017/fda-enasidenib-vyxeos-aml.