A new approach to killing cancer cells that uses a patient's own immune system has beaten back leukemia in 88 percent of adults, US researchers said Wednesday.
The report by scientists in New York offers more good news for the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapy, which uses what some describe as a "living drug" that was hailed by Science magazine as the breakthrough of 2013.
The latest trial, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, involved 16 people with a kind of blood cancer known as adult B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Some 1,400 people die of ALL in the United States each year, and while it is among the most treatable cancers, patients often become resistant to chemotherapy and eventually relapse.
For this study, 14 of 16 adult patients achieved complete remission after their T cells were genetically engineered so that they could focus on eradicating cancer.
The patients' median age was 50, and they were all on the brink of death when they entered the trial, having relapsed or discovered that chemotherapy was no longer working.
The longest remission among them so far is about two years, and that patient is still going strong, said lead author Renier Brentjens, director of cellular therapeutics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Without this therapy, just 30 percent of relapsed patients would be expected to respond to salvage chemotherapy.