02 February 2022

Breakthrough cancer treatment prevented leukaemia for 10 years, study shows

02 February 2022

A breakthrough cancer treatment prevents the recurrence of leukaemia for at least 10 years, a new study shows.

The paper, published in the journal Nature, showed two patients who were followed for a decade after beginning a trial of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in 2010 have been in remission since starting.

Not only did the cancer-fighting cells remain in the bodies of patients for so long, they had also evolved and were still capable of killing cancer when tested years down the line.

Researchers believe CAR T-cell therapy could be the future for treating blood cancers (PA Media)

The team behind the study believe the success of the therapy means it will be the treatment for all blood cancers within the next decade.

CAR T-cell therapy involves genetically modifying the patient’s own white blood cells, called T-cells, before infusing them back to trigger an immune response against cancer cells

One of the first patients, Doug Olsen, was 49 years old and had a wife and four children when he was first diagnosed in 1996 with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), a type of cancer which begins in bone marrow and moves to the blood.

(PA/ to Penn medicine) Doug Olsen has been cancer-free for ten years since starting CAR T-cell therapy

Despite some initial success from chemotherapy, by 2010 almost half of his bone marrow was cancerous.

Instead of opting for a bone marrow transplant, which he said he was trying to avoid, he enrolled in a trial of CAR T-cell therapy led by his oncologist Dr David Porter from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman Centre for Advanced Medicine in the United States.

Mr Olsen said after just two weeks he was delivered promising results.

He said: “That’s when Dr Porter came into my hospital room and he announced, hot off the press, that 18% of my white cells were CAR T-cells.

“I will tell you that moment, I was absolutely convinced that this thing was working and that I was going to be OK.”

Now, 10 years later, the team said that Mr Olsen has been cured.

Joseph Melenhorst, a University of Pennsylvania immunologist and co-author of the new paper, said: “We’ve called these cells, you know, a living therapy.

“The major finding that shows in this paper is that 10 years down the road, you can find them, but they have evolved.”

However, Dr Carl June, a professor of immunology and oncology at University of Pennsylvania, explained that CAR T-cell therapy is currently only effective for blood cancers, so adapting the treatment for solid cancers, ie non-blood cancers which make up around 90% of cancer, was a “big challenge”.

He said: “I think basically all blood cancers will be treated with CAR T-cells over the next decade as the trials mature because they are starting to move to frontline therapies rather than end of the line therapies as Doug Olsen had in 2010 when there was basically nothing left in the toolbox to treat patients.

“So trials are underway to move this up front in leukaemias and lymphomas but the big scientific challenge, and it’s a big one, is how to make this work in solid cancers.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox