A revolutionary drug that works as a guided missile to kill tumor cells can transform cancer treatment for thousands of British patients.
The search-and-destroyer is injected into the bloodstream and immediately houses malignant cells while healthy people remain unharmed.
NHS scientists testing the pioneering drug predict that it could provide a valuable lifeline to critically ill patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma – a type of cancer that affects the immune system – who failed to get better with existing treatments. Some have completely gone into remission, which means that there is no sign of the cancer in their body.
& # 39; The first results are promising & # 39 ;, says professor John Radford, research director at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, where the drug is being tested.
The antibody drug is injected and once the antibodies have hunted the cancer cells, they lock themselves in on them
& # 39; And we're talking about patients with very few options. A drug that is so effective in patients who have not responded to other treatments is very special. We didn't know if they would even find it acceptable, let alone whether it would work, so these results are very exciting. & # 39;
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma affects nearly 14,000 people a year. Almost 5,000 a year die from the disease. It starts when malignant cells form in the lymph nodes – small glands in the armpits, groin and neck that play an important role in the body's defenses by circulating cells that cause infections, called lymphocytes, around the body.
The first sign is often a painless swelling in the neck or groin, but the disease can cause cancerous growths throughout the body.
Some tumors develop very slowly for many years and result in few symptoms. Others are aggressive and fast-growing, and urgently need treatment.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most important weapons currently used by doctors. Some patients will also be treated with a drug called rituximab, which works by telling the immune system to attack and destroy cancer.
However, chemotherapy is so toxic that it destroys both healthy and malignant cells – with debilitating side effects such as extreme fatigue, nausea and hair loss – while radiotherapy alone is not sufficient to tackle the disease.
Rituximab works by attaching itself to cancer cells and killing them. But it also locks on and attacks healthy cells. Once the treatment is over, the healthy cells grow back.
The new guided missile drug, codenamed ADCT-402, could be much more precise because the cancer-killing element – a drug called loncastuximab tesirine – is attached to an antibody before it is injected.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most important weapons currently used by doctors (shown: image of cancer cells)
Antibodies are proteins in the blood that attach to foreign or invading cells, such as viruses or bacteria, so that the immune system can identify and destroy them.
In this case, scientists used an antibody that was only attracted to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cells, and somewhat worked as a rocket guidance system.
Once the antibody has chased the cancer cell, it connects to it and dumps the beneficial charge in, where the active drug then attacks the cell's DNA and effectively kills it.
The new drug is administered once every three weeks via an infusion into a vein in the arm. The first results of a major international study, including Christie Hospital, were recently presented at a conference in Switzerland. Of the 129 seriously ill patients, 44 percent went into partial or complete remission. & # 39; Chemotherapy destroys everything in its path, & # 39; says Prof Radford. & # 39; But this drug is specifically targeted at lymphoma cells. & # 39;
Jim Teasdale, 71, was one of the first patients in the UK to benefit from this. The retired college head, from Wirral, was diagnosed with & # 39; non-Hodgkin's lymphoma & # 39; five years ago when he suffered from prolonged attacks of abdominal pain and extreme fatigue. His doctor initially suspected a stomachache, but when the pain persisted for a few weeks, father of two Jim sought a second opinion. A subsequent biopsy confirmed that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his abdomen, one of the areas where the disease can begin.
The cancer cleared up after chemotherapy and Jim and his wife Julie, 60, returned to their active lifestyle of cycling and long walks in nature. But the disease returned in 2017, destroying the couple. & # 39; I felt numb & # 39 ;, says Jim, who also has four grandchildren. & # 39; And Julie has made it worse. & # 39;
Despite more chemotherapy the cancer grew and Jim had almost no options left.
But earlier this year, Prof. Radford offered him the chance to participate in the ADCT-402 trial. After nine injections of the drug, Jim is in complete remission, with scans showing that the tumors are nowhere to be seen.
Jim says: & # 39; It was great. & # 39; The side effects are minimal compared to chemotherapy and I now enjoy life again, traveling with my wife, falling-walking and having our weekly date-evening. It is no exaggeration to say that the Christie Hospital team saved my life. & # 39;
Jim's test has now ended. A list of studies recruiting patients for other non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatments is available at cancerresearch.org.uk.
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