Notable News Archives

October 2017 Notable News

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.

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Remember last month when we told you about the successful immunotherapy test trial known as CAR T therapy using the patient’s own immune cells to fight leukemia? There was a big push for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the therapy and they did! According to NPR.org the approval of the first cell-based gene therapy in the United States is being called a historic action. The drug called Kymriah was developed by Novartis. It has been approved to treat a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults up to age 25 who have not responded to other treatments or who have experienced relapse. In the test trials, 83 percent of 63 patients were in remission within three months of undergoing the therapy. While very successful, the treatment does come with serious risks including a potentially life-threatening immune system response. Therefore, the FDA is requiring strong warnings and, for now, the treatment is only available at 32 specially trained hospitals and clinics. The treatment is also very expensive — $475,000 for the one-time treatment. Patients who do not respond within one month will not be charged. You can read more details here and if you missed the information we shared about CAR T therapy last month you can find that here.

This month fda.org announced another first in cancer treatment. A biosimilar drug, which is an almost identical copy of an original drug made by another company, was approved for the treatment of several types of cancer. Mvasi, a biosimilar to Avastin, is the first biosimilar approved for cancer treatment in the United States. This is significant because biosimilar drugs encourage competition among companies and help keep healthcare costs down for patients. Mvasi is approved to treat certain colorectal, lung, brain, kidney and cervical cancers in adult patients, but it could still be a couple years before it is available. More specifics about Mvasi, the cancers it is used to treat, and the side effects can be found here. Also, an interesting article on reuters.com about the impact biosimilars will have on healthcare costs as they become more widely available can be found here.

It’s hard to believe, but a virus known to cause brain defects could eventually be used to heal the brain. That’s what sciencedaily.com is reporting based on a study by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Diego. The study involves the Zika virus and glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer. The Zika virus targets immature and growing brain cells. That’s what makes it so dangerous to pregnant women and fetuses. However, in laboratory testing the researchers found that in an adult patient with glioblastoma, the Zika virus may bypass the normal brain cells to target the cancerous cells. It’s still too early to tell if the virus is a viable option for cancer treatment and there are other health concerns to consider, but this encouraging study opens the door for more promising research. Learn more about the Zika virus study here.

Finally this month, a patient story that is going viral. A woman in Minneapolis with stage 4 breast cancer mentioned to her mail carrier how overwhelmed she felt by her diagnosis and treatment. The mail carrier, also battling cancer, organized a very heart-felt expression of hope in the form of 101 heart-shaped balloons planted in the woman’s front yard. See video and learn more about these two empowered patients here and make sure you stay in touch with what’s going on at PEN here and look for more Notable News coming next month.

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Knowledge is power, but staying on top of and researching all the latest headlines can be a time-consuming and daunting process. That’s why we’re doing it for you. That’s right. We’ll keep an eye on the most interesting and newsworthy developments of the past month or so and then we’ll summarize them for you here. We’ll even provide you with links to the more detailed articles at the end of each summary. The best part? We’re starting right now.

There’s a lot of buzz about immunotherapy and rightly so. This month an article on time.com featured a successful immunotherapy test trial in which a young leukemia patient’s own immune cells were used to fight her cancer. The genetically modified immune cells are called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells and with one application they can be used to train the body to fight the cancer cells, hopefully, indefinitely. The modified cells are basically drugs living inside the body. That means patients won’t need to take regular doses of medications or be subject to other, sometimes unpleasant, treatments. There is a huge push for the Food and Drug Administration to move the therapy beyond the testing phase so more people can benefit. So far, the results are promising. Two men underwent the CAR T therapy in 2010 and both remain in remission today. Researchers are proceeding with caution though. The CAR T cells are individualized, therefore very expensive, and so far the process only works on some types of blood cancers There are also some pretty intense side effects. When the modified cells enter the body and start killing off the cancer cells the immune system response is acute and can include things like high fever, difficulty breathing, and kidney failure. All told, the latest developments in immunotherapy are worth keeping an eye on. Read more here. You can also learn more about it here. And even more, including a bit about the history of the research and the men behind the research here.

An unexpected hurdle has emerged in cancer research: not enough patients. Hard to believe, but as reported by nytimes.com earlier this month, there are more drugs and clinical trials than there are patients to test them on. Here’s why. Inspired by the latest developments in the aforementioned immunotherapy, companies are in overdrive and have created a surge in trials for new drugs that use the body’s own immune system to combat cancer. These drugs have the potential to yield a huge profit should the FDA give the stamp of approval. None of the companies want to be left out of the earnings so they are all trying to develop their own version of drugs that treat similar cancers. That alone is enough to spread thin the eligible patients. Factor in the specificity of some of the trials and the patient pool decreases even more. In addition, the rapid increase in trials have made some of the major medical facilities wary and they have dialed back their participation. You can find more details here.

A routine blood test may soon be the best method of early detection. Researchers in Japan have developed a method that uses a single drop of blood to test for 13 cancers. The test is relatively inexpensive, would be done as part of a comprehensive medical exam, and use a molecular substance called MicroRNA to detect the cancers in early stages. Clinical trials are underway as of earlier this month. This promising development was reported at pressherald.com and more details can be found here.

Stay tuned. In the months to come, we’ll help keep you informed which will help keep you empowered.