Blood cancer is a deadly disease that kills one every nine minutes in the United States and diagnoses one every three minutes. This form of cancer focuses on white blood cells called B lymphocytes, which are essential in making antibodies and fighting infection.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia, accounting for about a quarter of all blood cancers in adults, while Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) accounts for 4% of all cancers in the US.
A new and specific medical treatment, studied by researchers from the Ohio State University Cancer Center and the Richard J. Solove Institute for Cancer Research (OSUCCC-James) in the United States, could represent an important alternative for cancer patients of the blood, including CLL and NHL, that no longer respond to conventional treatments.
In the first human clinical trial of this drug, called nemtabrutinib, it was found to be effective in three-quarters of the cancer patients tested, without causing severe side effects. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Cancer Discovery.
Dr. Jennifer Woyach, a hematologist and principal investigator of the study, points out that there are currently about six drugs available to treat these B-cell cancers. However, although many patients initially respond to these treatments, over time the disease progresses and many face its progression.
Blood cancers that recur after initial treatments are a major challenge in treatment, and sometimes, even with effective drugs, patients run out of standard treatment options.
According to Woyach, nemtabrutinib appears to offer promising prospects for patients whose cancers have progressed after other treatments. She leads the Leukemia Research Program at OSUCCC-James and highlighted the drug’s potential in a university press release.
The treatment’s mechanism of action is by binding to a crucial enzyme called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK), involved in B-cell signaling. These drugs block the action of the enzyme, causing the abnormal B-cells to die. However, the effect of these drugs is often temporary, because over time, the BTK enzyme undergoes mutations that prevent the drug’s effectiveness, and the cancer returns.
Nemtabrutinib was designed to bind to BTK even in the presence of mutations that make other BTK drugs stop working. It also acts on other essential proteins in B-cell cancers, which makes the drug very attractive for this category of patients.
The study involved 47 patients who had undergone at least two previous therapies for their blood cancer. More than 75% of patients with relapsed CLL responded to the drug at an optimal dose of 65 mg. Most of these patients remained cancer-free for at least 16 months during the study. Side effects, generally minor and manageable, were encountered in all patients, demonstrating the relative safety of the drug.
Nemtabrutinib is currently in the stage of larger and more representative studies, where it will be compared with other standard treatments and will also be investigated in combination with other active drugs, according to the study authors.
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