In 2016, nearly 16,000 children and adolescents will be diagnosed with cancer. About 4,800 of these cases will be diagnosed with leukemia. While a rare disease with a relatively high survival rate, childhood leukemia is always heartbreaking. Yet there is good news coming for kids, families and adults fighting the deadly battle with leukemia, as well as Non-Hodgkin lymphomas. One of the first cellular immunotherapies is about to hit the market, and early results suggest these diseases, even in advanced stages, may be curable.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies represent a type of immunotherapy where patient’s immune system T-cells are removed and genetically reprogrammed to seek and destroy tumor cells. These CAR T-cells are grown in a laboratory and sent back to the patient to be infused into the patient following chemotherapy.The cells then behave as immune system cells should. They seek out antigens, multiply, attack and kill the foreign cancer cells. The new cells often also stay in the body to minimize any chances of relapse.
Results of these cellular immunotherapies have been impressive. Some studies focusing on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) have reported a remission rate of 90%.The groundbreaking treatment is expected to be presented to the FDA in 2017 for treatment of ALL, which is expected to trigger a wave of approvals for other blood cancers and lymphomas.
The novel use of the immune system is not only proving to be effective, it also represents a potential path to one day replace chemotherapy. The damage inflicted by chemo, especially on children, can have a lifetime of side effects. Cellular immunotherapy gives patients’ bodies a chance to prove their resilience – a challenge any kid loves to accept.