Immunotherapy is back in the headlines this month with nytimes.com reporting another treatment being approved by the FDA. This second therapy is called Yescarta and is made by Kite Pharma and uses the patients own cells to create a “living drug” that is administered to the patient through a one-time injection. The patients altered cells then battle the cancer and the results from the trial are remarkable. Of the 101 patients who received the treatment in the trial 54 percent had complete remissions and 28 percent had partial remissions. Six months later 80 percent of the patients were still alive. But, as with Kymriah, the other FDA-approved immunotherapy treatment, made by Novartis, the side-effects can be severe and sometimes life-threatening. In the trials leading to the approval of Yescarta two patients died as a result of the side effects.
Yescarta has been approved for adults who have an aggressive form of the blood cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and have undergone two rounds of failed chemotherapy. The treatment is expensive at a cost of $373,000 partly because it must be manufactured individually for each patient. An estimated 3,500 people per year in the United States will be eligible for treatment with Yescarta. You can learn more here and you can review our past updates about immunotherapy treatments here and here.
The number of changes it takes to turn a healthy cell into cancer has been one of the most argued topics in cancer research, but as reported by bbc.com British scientists have put an end to the decades-long debate. It turns out that very few mutations, a handful or less, are responsible for whether a cell becomes cancerous or not. In fact, the researchers, who studied the DNA form 7,664 tumors to pinpoint the “driver mutations” discovered that it takes ten mutations to form colorectal cancer, four mutations for breast or liver cancer, and only one mutation to form thyroid or testicular cancer.
The researchers were able to identify which mutations were dictating the formation of cancer by using Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the forces of natural selection saying that the driver mutations would appear more often than those that do not make the cells cancerous. Their findings could lead to the development of more drugs that specifically target the driver mutations which would improve treatment for patients. You can find out more here.
Another sweet research breakthrough reported this month at usatoday.com comes out of Belgium where researchers have been working since 2008 to better understand the relationship between cancer and sugar which in turn helps to understand something called the Warburg Effect — where tumor cells rapidly breakdown glucose to form energy that fuels tumor growth. Researchers found that sugar, or glucose, overstimulated the proteins found mutated in human tumors that cause the cells to grow faster and that may explain how the Warburg Effect relates to tumor aggressiveness.
At this point, the research is not considered a medical breakthrough and does not indicate that eating a low-sugar diet could prevent a cancer diagnosis, but it does lay the groundwork for more research and provides a little food for thought. More details can be found here and remember to check back next month to see what has evolved in Notable News.
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.