Israeli oncologists unveil 'exciting' cancer treatment extending patients' life expectancy in trials

The experimental treatment has put 88 per cent of patients with multiple myeloma into remission, researchers say


Lab technicians work on a process machine to produce CAR-T cells and RNA in the laboratory of French biopharmaceutical company Cellectis in Paris on September 23, 2021. - The human immune system has T lymphocytes to protect itself, which identify and destroy foreign cells. Cellectis develops CAR-T cells, or "chimeric antigen receptor T cells", a genetically engineered T cell for use in immunotherapy. The principle of the new and innovative class of therapy is to retrain the immune system to target a specific disease, such as cancer cells. Cellectis manufactures the RNA molecules in the Paris laboratory, which are then sent to a production site in the USA. After many more operations the RNA is turned into molecular scissors capable of cutting a fragment of DNA in T cells. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

A groundbreaking cancer treatment developed at Israel's Hadassah-University Medical Centre is extending the life expectancy of myeloma patients, researchers have said.

The experimental treatment has put 88 per cent of patients with multiple myeloma into remission, according to oncologists at the Jerusalem hospital. The trials were carried out on 74 patients with the disease.

Still regarded as incurable, myeloma is a rare type of cancer that develops from cells in the bone marrow. Hadassah hospital began developing the innovative treatment in 2018 using Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell, or CAR-T, therapy.

The treatment takes cells from the patient’s own immune system and genetically engineers them so that they can identify cancer cells and attack them.  While the concept of CAR-T was pioneered in Israel in the 1980s, and later used in the treatment of lymphoma, it had not been used to treat myeloma until recent clinical trials began. 

“It was a science fiction and now it's reality,” said Professor Polina Stepensky, director of Hadassah’s bone marrow transplantation and immunotherapy department.

Stepensky developed the treatment alongside Cyril Cohen, head of Bar Ilan University’s cancer immunology and immunotherapy laboratory.

“We know that we are unable to cure myeloma, but we are able to switch it into a chronic disease,” she said.

“When I graduated medical school in 1998, survival with myeloma was two years and now it is more than 10, and we hope to increase it even more. Now patients with diabetes live a normal life, so I hope the same for those with myeloma.”

The trials - part of a clinical study approved by the Helsinki Committee and the Israeli Ministry of Health - are now in their second phase, but a patent license has been acquired by a pharmaceutical company in the US, where a separate clinical trial will soon begin.

Stepensky hopes the treatment will be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration within a year. There are also clinical trials for a separate CART-T treatment underway in the UK, at University College Hospital.

Ali Rismani, a consultant haematologist at the hospital said that while the treatment is not effective for everyone, and is unsuitable for very elderly and unfit people, the results of the trials are “promising”.

“CAR-T gives us a treatment option for patients who've run out of treatments...It's not a straightforward procedure but if it does work, and depending on which CAR-T is used, [patients can live for] an extra couple of years, sometimes more,” Rismani said.

Dr Rupal Mistry, a spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK, said: “Results from this ongoing early-stage study using CAR-T cell therapy are encouraging for people with advanced multiple myeloma. While more work is needed to confirm these exciting findings on a wider scale, this research is bringing us one step closer to being able to provide more effective treatment options for people with this disease.” 

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