A groundbreaking treatment developed by an Israeli team might offer a cure against multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
Multiple myeloma is a relatively common type of cancer which targets white blood cells producing antibodies. As a result of the disease, those cells start to multiply indefinitely in the blood and can accumulate in the bones as well.
“The causes of this cancer are not clear, but it can lead to bone lesions, anemia, kidney failure, and it exposes the patients to infections, since their immune system is weakened,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.
Currently, the disease is considered treatable but not curable, with a survival rate of about 50% five years after the diagnosis. The state-of-the-art treatment is based on chemotherapy, a type of treatment that is often burdensome on the patient.
Cohen and his colleagues, including Prof. Polina Stepensky and Dr. Moshe Gatt from the Hadassah-University Medical Center, developed a bio-based alternative which aims at “reprogramming” the patient’s own blood cells.
“We are reprogramming another type of the immune system’s cells, called ‘T cells,’ in order to teach them to fight the cancer inside the blood of the patient,” Cohen explained.
“We draw some blood from the patient, we separate the T cells, and in the laboratory we add a new molecule which allows them to recognize the cancerous cells,” he added. “The molecule is called a CAR, which stands for ‘chimeric antigen receptor.’”
In order to add the molecule to the cells, the researchers use an undangerous modified virus, which is then inoculated into the patient’s T cells.
“When we see that the T cells start to produce the relevant protein, we inject them back into the patient,” Cohen explained. “Therefore, it is the patient’s own immune system that starts fighting the cancer, rather than an outside element. Moreover, this can be termed a ‘living drug.’ It is enough to inject the T cells once, and then they keep multiplying and working by themselves.”
The team has been working on the treatment for about two years with the support of the Adelis Foundation.
“The molecule was developed in Israel, and all the technology of the genetic modification of the cells is taking place locally, which I believe is quite unique for this kind of treatment,” Cohen pointed out.
In the lab, the scientists were able to cure 80%-100% of the mice using this novel therapeutic strategy.
The treatment is currently in a phase I clinical trial at Hadassah, and has already been successfully administered to a few patients.
“We are hoping we can achieve a rate of success similar to the one we accomplished with mice,” Cohen emphasized.