(Australian Associated Press)
The “extraordinary” results of a cancer treatment trial involving terminally ill patients confirms research done in Australia, say scientists.
In the latest trial involving therapy that trains the immune system to attack cancer, 94 per cent of participants with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) saw their symptoms vanish completely.
Patients with other blood cancers saw response rates greater than 80 per cent with more than half experiencing complete remission.
The technique involves removing immune cells called T-cells from patients, tagging the “receptor” molecules that target cancer, and infusing them back in the body.
Lead scientist Professor Stanley Riddell, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the results were extraordinary for patients who had failed every other treatment.
Professor Georgina Long, researcher and medical oncologist at Melanoma Institute Australia, told AAP the study was “more pieces in the puzzle of the immune system”.
“We have been working with the idea of the immune system eradicating cancer for a long time,” she said.
Melanoma was the first to use immune treatment, which has led to many patients surviving beyond two, three or four years when in the past it would have been three or four months.
“We are understanding more about it to try and be even more effective – rather than having 50 per cent of patients responding to it, I would love to have 100 per cent.”
Professor Joe Trapani, head of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, said the US results were “quite outstanding” given the very bleak prognosis of the 35 patients involved.
Similar, smaller successful trials had already taken place in Australia, including at the Peter MacCallum centre.
Its researchers would be running clinical trials in a different type of cancer in the next 18 months, he said.
Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, said the study’s initial results were very promising but a lot more research was needed before immunotherapy became available to cancer patients.
“In Australia we have particularly seen the increasing use of immunotherapy in melanoma treatment and as a result patients who would have previously have had a very short life span are living longer.”