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New Treatment For Blood Cancer ‘A Breakthrough,’ According To Researchers

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
In this photo taken March 21, 2017, lymphoma patient Peter Bjazevich receives cellular immunotherapy as part of a study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

An innovative new treatment for an aggressive form of blood cancer has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The strain of lymphoma, targeted by the cell-based therapy, has a patient survival rate of about 40 percent, according to UPMC physician Mounzer Agha, director of the Mario Lemiuex Center for Blood Cancers at Hillman Cancer Center. He was involved in the new drug's clinical trails.

In these trials, patients whose cancer didn't respond to traditional lymphoma treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation saw a 51 percent remission rate. This is a breakthrough for patients and physicians, according to Agha.

"There was no treatment that could possibly put them into remission, so to get a 50 percent remission rate with this kind of treatment is a major accomplishment," Agha said.

The treatment is customized person by person, using an individual's immune system to fight the lymphoma. The patient's T-cells are modified with a new gene that targets and kills the cancer cells.

"This type of therapy represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of blood cancer and it will completely change the landscape of how we approach and treat blood cancers in the future," he said.

Agha said the drug will likely become commercially available in the next few weeks. As side effects are still being studied, it will be a treatment option only after a patient has undergone at least two other kinds of lymphoma treatment without success. The generic formulation will be distributed under the name Yescarta.