Philadelphia, PA, United States (4E) – Engineered T cells or white blood cells that help fight infections have cured 59 leukemia patients in an experiment of the gene therapy, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
The experiment started in 2010 genetically modified the patients’ own T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. Of 32 adult patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) who took part in the experiment, 26 remain cancer-free with seven in complete remission.
Doug Olson, one of the first three adult patients to undergo the immune therapy experiment in 2010, lost all leukemia cells in his blood three weeks after getting infusion of his modified T cells. T cells also remain in circulation in his blood, Olson, 67, told CBS News on Monday.
In a separate experiment, 27 children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) underwent the same gene therapy and 24 emerged free from cancerous cells.
Penn and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia presented the results of the experiment at a conference of the American Society of Hematology in New Orleans on Saturday.
According to the researchers, the new leukemia therapy is better than chemotherapy and radiation, which poison both malignant and healthy cells. The engineered T cells attack only cancer antigens unique in malignant cells. The designer T cells target an antigen found on B cells, the blood cells that turn malignant in ALL and CLL.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company Novartis is partnering with Penn and Children’s Hospital in producing the therapy in a New Jersey plant. The company also plans to conduct clinical study of the therapy together with multiple medical centers to get Food and Drug Administration approval in 2016, said Hervé Hoppenot, president of Novartis Oncology, according to Philly.com.