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Friday, February 7, 2014

New pills can melt away Leukemia

An experimental pill can change a deadly cancer into a controlled chronic disease, such as high blood pressure. If approved for the treatment of a common type of leukemia, these compounds can replace the toxic chemotherapy treatments.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer that attacks the B cells of the immune system that produce antibodies, as the leading troops against bacteria and viruses attacker's. However, when B cells are cancerous, they accumulate in the patient's organs, including lymph nodes, a bean-shaped organ under arm and crotch that recognize and fight infections. In the case of CLL, the glands swell many times its normal size.

Dr. Richard Furman. (Picture
 from: http://weill.cornell.edu/)
Dr. Richard Furman, a cancer researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, said the idelalisib pill which is taken twice a day, causing the cancer to melt and disappear. "When I say 'melt', the lymph glands did shrink in a few days. The drug works fast, it's very fun," said Furman.

The standard treatment for CLL is Rituxan, a steeping drug that destroys the cancerous B cells, but only at the time before the patient relapsed. With a series of repeated chemotherapy, Furman said leukeumia can become resistant to Rituxan and patients no longer respond.

"With agents like idealisib was an extraordinary tolerable and effective, I hope we can make CLL became a chronic diseases, like high blood pressure where patients can take one pill a day and control the disease," he said.

In this randomized, double-blinded study, researchers from 19 medical centers in five countries tested a combination of two targeted drugs – medications that attack cancer without damaging healthy cells. They compared rituximab and idelalisib against rituximab and a placebo pill in 220 CLL patients who could not receive chemotherapy.

They found that those who received the combination of idelalsib and rituximab went longer without their disease worsening than those who received only rituximab, which has been the standard of care.

It was found that just 13 percent of patients treated with rituximab alone responded to the therapy, compared to 81 percent of the participants in the idelalisib treatment group.

A higher percentage of patients who received both drugs – some 92 percent – were still alive a year after the study began, compared to 80 percent of those who only received rituximab. About the same percentage of patients in each group suffered side effects from the treatments. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. *** [EKA | FROM VARIOUS SOURCES | WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL COLLEGE | VOA NEWS | DNA]
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