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Medicine Science

'Living Drug' That Fights Cancer By Harnessing The Immune System Clears Key Hurdle (npr.org) 73

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: A new kind of cancer treatment that uses genetically engineered cells from a patient's immune system to attack their cancer easily cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this "living drug" approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukemia. The agency doesn't have to follow the committee's recommendation but usually does. The treatment takes cells from a patient's body, modifies the genes, and then reinfuses those modified cells back into the person who has cancer. If the agency approves, it would mark the first time the FDA has approved anything considered to be a "gene therapy product." The treatment is part of one of the most important developments in cancer research in decades -- finding ways to harness the body's own immune system to fight cancer. And while it has generated much hope, there are some concerns about its safety over the long term -- and its cost.

'Living Drug' That Fights Cancer By Harnessing The Immune System Clears Key Hurdle

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  • by Barsteward ( 969998 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @11:40AM (#54800851)
    surely they must be listened to as they know more, can't have the scientists being knowledgeable and doing good things based on facts and research :)
  • prior art (Score:4, Funny)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @11:51AM (#54800955)
    there's got to be a zombie book/movie that used this plot
  • This has the potential to be as life changing as anti-biotics were. Just hope we do a better job with gene therap than with anti-biotics. (Can't believe we let shmucks put it animal feed and soap. Just asking for resistant bacteria.)

    Hopefully we don't end up doing stupid things like letting people add human genes to non-human life forms.

    • Human genes in non human life forms would be just dandy, for some applications. Ferment a batch of E. coli to produce more insulin or whatever hormones a given condition leaves someone without. No need to assume it'd all go Island of Dr Moreau
  • This does work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Major_Disorder ( 5019363 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @12:32PM (#54801285)
    A friend of mine is alive today because he was part of one of the early trials.
    He had been told by his doctor, just before he was accepted into the trial, that he should start putting his affairs in order.
    If I recall correctly, he is 7 years cancer free now.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @01:23PM (#54801739)

    GE did a story on it that they posted to youtube years ago. [youtube.com]

    Probably my favorite part of this story hitting the news is that the spokesperson for this treatment is the girl from the above video. She's 12 now and still completely cancer free. [chicagotribune.com] I'm very glad to see she's doing well.

  • ... there are some concerns about its safety over the long term -- and its cost.

    I figure the cost will be X in the developed world other than the US and 10X in the US because the FDA protects pharma profits (and it's own jobs) first.

    • I figure the cost will be X in the developed world other than the US and 10X in the US because the FDA protects pharma profits (and it's own jobs) first.

      That's a completely ridiculous statement. The cost is going to be astronomical because this therapy is developed on a "per person" basis. Additionally, there's not a really finely tuned way to control the altered T-cells, that's something they're still working on for the next generation of these types of drugs. So that said, these T-cells can attack cancer and healthy cells and which ones they do attack depends on what tissue they land on while in your blood stream. Long hospital stays are going to be a

      • CART therapy is an outpatient procedure with monitoring for roughly 6-8 weeks afterward. If there's CRS, it's pretty obvious and you need to get to the hospital quickly, but as long as you know what to look for there's no need to stay in the hospital the whole time.
  • Did they use crispr to alter the genes? The article does not say.
  • by byteCoder ( 205266 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @02:18PM (#54802177) Homepage

    I'm living proof these sorts of immunotherapy treatments work: five years and still cancer-free. It's wonderful that the FDA may be on the brink of approving their use outside of trials.

    I sought out and was admitted into a trial at NIH in 2012 to use a similar treatment for Stage IV melanoma.

    In my trial, the researchers harvested my existing white blood cells and selected those that were able to recognize and attack the mutations present in my melanoma. Those cells were expanded to 130 billion in the lab and then re-infused into my body after my own immune system was killed off. In essence, my immune system was rebooted with white blood cells that could recognize and fight the cancer cells.

    In theory, my body has been effectively immunized against the some of the cancerous mutations that my melanoma exhibited. I won't need any further treatment for my previous melanoma EVER.

    I know fellow melanoma patients who were in related trials at NIH in which their harvested white cells were genetically engineered to express different proteins (like, IL-12 or IL-15 or NY/ESO) with similar success.

    These novel cancer-fighting approaches are working. I'm happy that the FDA may actually be slowing adapting to the changing medical technology.

    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
      Assuming you had chicken pox as a kid, would this mean you'd be susceptible to it again? Of course that's a pretty good trade-off.. just trying to understand the immune system "reboot".
      • by byteCoder ( 205266 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @05:22PM (#54803807) Homepage

        That's a good question, and I'm not certain that the researchers could definitively say yes or no.

        I should note that the white blood cells (lymphocytes) that were grown in the lab were those selected to attack the cancerous cells. Some of those T lymphocytes may also have the "memory" for identifying the other foreign items from which I've already acquired immunity. In addition, as part of the treatment, twenty-four hours after receiving the new white blood cells that were grown in the lab, I was given a pint of the blood stem cells that were extracted before treatment, mostly to counteract the effects of the total body radiation on the stem cells in my bone marrow for the trial. (The researchers were trying to determine if they got better survival results with this treatment by giving 12 Grays of radiation versus no radiation. Ultimately, they determined from the trial that the radiation showed little improvement in overall survival.)

        I do know that my allergies have changed since my treatment. In fact, they've moderated a bit. My first month or so after treatment, it seemed like I had seasonal allergies to everything, but that has pretty much faded away and ragweed and cottonwood seasons don't seem to affect me much anymore.

        Also, my doctors had me on an antibiotic (Bactrim) for at least six months post-treatment, because of the increased risk of contracting a certain type of pneumonia (PCP) because of my suppressed immune system.

        • There's no definitive answer to whether you retain immunity to things you were previously exposed to or vaccinated against, although the trend is that you probably lose some of your previous immunity. It varies a lot based on what T cell therapy you got, and there's some patient to patient variability as well. The one in this article kills almost all B cells - cancerous and healthy - so those patients lose a lot more immunity than you probably did.
    • Wow! Could I ask you to name the medical facility?

      Sincerely,

      Just N. Case...

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @02:28PM (#54802251) Journal
    The genes are patented by the drug company. The patients body making additional copies of the gene would be violating the patent and copyright of the drug maker. Who will sue you to death. If cancer does not get you, the pharma will get you.
    • The genes are patented by the drug company.

      There aren't genes patented because the therapy is developed on a per person basis. Last I checked, everyone had slightly different genes. What the drug company is selling is the process, not a drug.

      The patients body making additional copies of the gene would be violating the patent and copyright of the drug maker.

      That's not how any of that works. That's not even a correct statement about anything in medicine. That would be like saying a flu vaccine maker could sue you for your body's ability to mass reproduce an antigen. That's never been the case, no one thinks that should be the case, and thinking that one day tha

    • Well that's just ludicrous. The pharma company has a patent on the virus and process used to make these, but not on the cells themselves. The cells replicating inside of you definitely don't violate patent law.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pardon my cynicism, but I'm hoping the real key hurdle here, wasn't whether humans would allow something to proceed. But more importantly, medically, the specified interaction going on between all metabolic, immunologic and chemical processes, produced the expected or beneficial results to proceed further with study or implementation.

    The idea that the allowance of discovery, and our implementation of it, is the hurdle to progress, is rather disturbing.

    For this type of progress, it's one thing whether the st

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