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A new cancer treatment pioneered at the University of Pennsylvania has generated a lot of excitement in the field in addition to a handful of breathless media reports. Called targeted cellular therapy, the approach has given several dozen patients what Laurence Cooper of the MD Anderson Cancer Center called “a Lazarus moment.”
The patients all suffered from lymphocytic leukemia and had exhausted other treatment options. The researchers, Carl June and David Porter, announced the results recently at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans.
“Those patients were facing certain death,” said Cooper, who wasn’t involved in the Penn study but is researching a similar treatment at MD Anderson.
After receiving targeted cellular therapy, 26 of 59 patients, including 19 children, are now cancer-free. Patients with the acute form of the cancer, which affects both children and adults, were especially likely to respond positively to treatment.
Patient Doug Olson had long suffered from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, when in 2010 he became one of the first patients to undergo targeted cellular therapy. A few weeks after his treatment, June and Porter could find no cancer cells in Olson’s body.
“The immune system eradicated his tumor. He had pounds — literally pounds — of tumor, and it went away in less than a week. It was an astonishing event that we saw,” June said in a Penn video.
More than 3 years later, Olson still shows no signs of CLL. Other early patients have also remained in remission, according to the doctors.