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Israeli experts report breakthrough on leukaemia

Oncologists worldwide are intrigued by the new therapy, which genetically re-engineers the patient’s own immune cells and makes them able to seek out and kill cancer cells.

    Sheba Medical Centre
    Sheba Medical Centre (David Shay, via wikipedia commons)

    Israeli doctors are reporting a breakthrough in cancer treatment, after successfully using a new therapy on leukaemia and lymphoma sufferers who were failed by existing therapies.

    Oncologists worldwide are intrigued by the new therapy, which genetically re-engineers the patient’s own immune cells and makes them able to seek out and kill cancer cells. 

    At Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv, doctors have treated 19 people — about half of them children — suffering from leukaemia or lymphoma with this CAR-T-cell therapy. Each patient in the clinical trial had received regular treatments to no lasting effect. 

    A few patients still need to be evaluated, but of the others, 75 per cent are in complete remission. “These people are very sick when they start, and you look at their responses a month later and I’ve seen one girl going round the hospital on rollerblades, it’s amazing,” said Michal Besser, who runs the lab behind the trial. 

    For the therapy cells are grown in a lab until they number in the millions and then re-infused back into the patient. Part of the reason for Sheba’s leading role in this therapy is that Dr Besser’s lab, at the Ella Lemelbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology, makes the necessary cells and conducts research and clinical trials, independent of pharmaceutical companies. 

    “We are producing our one cells here and I don't think there is more than a handful of places in the world that can do this,” said Dr Besser. Results will be used to advance treatment which is to be offered at Sheba. 

    Dr Besser thinks that the 75 per cent remission rate is “very repeatable” as opposed to a one-off, and said that what makes this therapy such a breakthrough is that it helps people who have lost all hope. “This is really a list line therapy,” she commented. “this is really a last chance, these are people that have failed all other therapies, often including bone marrow and multiple lines of chemotherapy.”

    She is confident that this therapy will become a “platform to combat other forms of cancer, as well as other diseases in the near future.” 

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