Adoptive T cell therapies are one of the most promising methodologies for immunotherapy at the present time. This small trial is for pediatric cancer, and one might argue that you'd expect better results from immunotherapy in children, however. The aged immune system is much less effective at all of its jobs. As is the case for stem cell therapies and their issues in treating the old, we can hope that the challenge of immune aging will simply be an incentive for the research community to develop means to overcome it so that cancer immunotherapies can work at peak effectiveness. After all, cancer in children is rare in comparison to cancer in the old. The economic incentives thus steer developers to put considerable effort into enabling cancer treatments to work well for the old, given a promising line of research to work on.
11 of the 13 patients treated thus far in a clinical trial using genetically reprogrammed T cells to treat relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia have achieved complete remission, confirmed by highly sensitive tests designed to detect minute amounts of cancer cells. The trial includes patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who have relapsed after a bone marrow transplant and typically have only a 10% to 20% chance of survival with standard treatment. Using immunotherapy, which reprograms the body's T cells to hunt down and destroy cancer cells, researchers have seen an 85% complete remission rate. "In this population of patients, a treatment with a 20% response rate would be considered a success. Having 11 out of 13 patients achieve a complete remission is incredible, but we will keep working until we have 100% in remission."
In the first phase of the trial, [researchers] treated 13 patients with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia using cancer immunotherapy. This phase was designed to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of cancer immunotherapy as a treatment for leukemia and to determine the optimal dose of engineered T cells to administer to patients. Of the 13 patients treated, 12 responded to the treatment and 11 achieved complete remission. One of these patients has since relapsed; the remaining ten are in ongoing remission. The second phase of the trial, which is expected to begin in 2015, will allow even more patients to be treated with what researchers determine is the optimal dose of reengineered T cells. "Our goal is to eventually offer immunotherapy to patients when they are first diagnosed with cancer so they don't have to endure transplants or prolonged chemotherapy and radiation."