There has been a new win for immunotherapy. The FDA panel recommends approval for a first of its kind immunotherapy to treat cancer. The “living drug” called CTL019 is a CAR T-cell genetically modified to target cancer.
CAR T-cells are extracted from the patient’s body, frozen and shipped off to a Novartis where they are modified, and sent back to the patient for treatment. This is another new form of personalised cancer treatment, a new era for medicine. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy is a blunt instrument to deal with something like cancer which requires precision.
The results of the study were exceptional. Patients in the study had been through various treatments such as chemo and radiotherapy, and in the face of death, they received a single dose of CTL019 and experienced long remissions. The first patient was a 6-year old called Emily Whitehead. She had been told her leukaemia was fatal until she received the CAR T-cell therapy. At age 12, after 6 years of being cancer free, she attended the panel’s meeting to approve the drug.
“We believe that when this treatment is approved it will save thousands of children’s lives around the world,” Tom Whitehead, Emily’s father, told the panel, according to The New York Times. “I hope that someday all of you on the advisory committee can tell your families for generations that you were part of the process that ended the use of toxic treatments like chemotherapy and radiation as standard treatment, and turned blood cancers into a treatable disease that even after relapse most people survive.”
It was then recommended approval for treatment of relapsed or treatment-resistant B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children and young adults ages 3 to 25. The disease rare, with only 5,000 cases annually, but the treatment developed by the University of Pennsylvania, could potentially improve the lives of many young people, who are mainly affected by this disease.
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