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New drug approved for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

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20 Jun 2019

A targeted drug that improves survival for people with an aggressive form of blood cancer has been made available on the NHS in England.

A scientist uses a pipette in a lab

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that blinatumomab, which is also know by the brand name Blincyto, can be used to treat adults with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Blinatumomab is a type of drug called a ‘monoclonal antibody’, which harnesses the body’s own immune cells to recognise and kill cancer cells that have specific markings on them.

NICE accepted that two clinical trials showed that blinatumomab can increase survival times and could give more people the chance of a long-term cure.

The use of blinatumomab has been sanctioned for people with ALL who have a form of the leukaemia which is ‘Philadelphia chromosome-negative’ and who are in complete remission after initial treatment.

Blinatumomab was previously approved for people with ALL who don't respond to initial treatment or whose cancer returns.

Today's announcement means that people who have responded well to initial treatment, but who have low levels of cancer still detectable with a sensitive test, can also receive blinatumomab. It is believed that the NHS will receive the drug at a confidential discounted cost.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research, Policy and Support at Bloodwise, said: “As CAR-T therapy hasn’t yet been made available for adults with ALL, we’re pleased to see blinotumomab recommended for use, which has already proven to be effective for some. It’s a step in the right direction that this advanced immunotherapy has been approved more widely for adults with low levels of disease.”

ALL affects white blood cells called lymphoblasts in your bone marrow, which are a vital part of the immune system. Normally, lymphoblasts mature and develop into lymphocytes, which fight infection. This process goes wrong in people with ALL. Abnormal lymphoblasts build up in the bone marrow, crowding out normal blood cells.

Current treatment for newly diagnosed ALL usually involves intensive chemotherapy, which is designed to put the disease into remission. This is followed by more chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, if possible, to reduce the chances of the leukaemia relapsing.

Read our information and support for people affected by ALL

Want to talk about blood cancer? Our support line is available Monday-Friday 10am-4pm on (Freephone) 0808 2080 888 or you can email the team at support@bloodwise.org.uk

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