Picture a very unhappy situation: you have leukemia; what are your options? Everyone knows about the side effects of chemo, and most people will have some idea about the Nobel Prize-winning CAR-T cell therapy—but there’s also a third option.
It seems startling to be so overlooked because it’s so straightforward. Blinatumomab cured the young fellow above of his B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The BBC reports that 20 medical centers in the UK are already using off-brand stocks of blinatumomab to treat this cancer, and the country has already approved the drug for adult use.
‘Blina’ as it’s referred to for short, is also an immunotherapy drug; it seeks out and kills cancer cells that typically disguise themselves from the body’s innate immune system. However, unlike chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T cell), blina is cheaper.
Blina is a kind of targeted therapy drug called a bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE). It’s administered via a pump and plastic bag through a tube inserted into the patient’s arm.
The bag is carried around in a slim backpack, and the supply lasts a few days. CAR-T cell therapy requires a patient’s cells to be taken out and modified to fight off whichever cancer is present—which takes time.
Like CAR-T, the healthy normal cells are not destroyed as in the case of chemotherapy, allowing the patient to continue leading a mostly normal life.
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“Chemotherapies are poisons that kill the leukemic cells but also kill and damage normal cells—and that is what causes their side effects,” said chief investigator and consultant pediatric hematologist, Professor Ajay Vora to the BBC. “Blinatumomab is a gentler, kinder treatment.”
Gentler on the body—not on the cancer. Arthur, now 11, was one of the first kids to receive the treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. His family got the word that his blood cancer was cured on New Year’s Eve.
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Having started chemo years before which both left him very weak and failed to kill the cancer, the family called blina a “little ray of sunshine” and said that they celebrated the new year twice as hard.
On March 29th, 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration granted accelerated approval to blinatumomab after successful trial results, though serious side effects were not uncommon. It’s available for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment.
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