In patients whose standard therapy has failed for a rare type of leukemia, a new combination therapy can send the disease into remission, researchers have found in a pilot study.
The new approach to battling T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia combines immunotherapy, boosting the body's immune system with epigenetics, the manipulation of gene activity.
"It was unbelievable, really, seeing a patient who had already failed Campath (the drug typically used to treat the disease) literally going back into remission," said one of the leaders of the study Thomas Loughran Jr., director of the University of Virginia Cancer Center in the US.
The experimental approach did not cure the patients, but it did send them all into remission, thus buying them more time to have the bone marrow/stem cell transplant that could save their lives.
The study looked at eight patients with T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia, an aggressive cancer that is extremely difficult to treat. It is also extremely rare, appearing most commonly in older men.
The experimental treatment made a significant difference for all the study participants. "There has been a revolution in the last few years seeing success with immunotherapy, and people speculated that perhaps if you combined epigenetic and immunotherapy, that might be even more spectacular," Loughran said.
Researchers believe that it is a cutting-edge combination that holds great promise not just for treating T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia but, possibly, many other cancers as well.