Investigators: Personalized T cell attack spurs complete remissions of leukemia

Investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have been pioneering the use of genetically modified T cells to fight cancer. And to underscore the potential of this technology, which they have used to help start up the high-profile Juno Therapeutics, new human data has produced another round of jaw-dropping outcomes from a small but influential study.

MSKCC investigators say that in a study with 16 patients their modified T cells produced complete remission in 88% of patients with advanced adult B cell lymphoblastic leukemia. Only 30% of patients in the control arm responded to salvage chemotherapy.

"These extraordinary results demonstrate that cell therapy is a powerful treatment for patients who have exhausted all conventional therapies," said Michel Sadelain, director of the Center for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering and one of the study's senior authors, in a statement. "Our initial findings have held up in a larger cohort of patients, and we are already looking at new clinical studies to advance this novel therapeutic approach in fighting cancer."

The big idea, which is being pursued by warring camps behind Juno--which includes the Fred Hutch and Seattle Children's Research Institute--as well as the rival Novartis ($NVS), which inlicensed technology from the University of Pennsylvania, is that you can reengineer a patient's T cells with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) to go after cancer cells; in this case cancer cells that express CD19 on the surface. For Novartis, it's a straight pathway to combination immunotherapies that hold blockbuster potential in revolutionizing the way cancer is treated.

To highlight what that means to patients, MSKCC highlighted two cases in the study:

Patient Dennis Billy was initially treated more than two years ago and has been cancer free since, and Paolo Cavalli has remained in complete remission for 8 months following his personalized T cell treatment. Both are living examples of the potential this approach has in a very large market. And no one is missing the market potential that comes with it.

- here's the release