There are reports in some of today’s papers that a new drug has shown promise in treating a specific type of childhood leukaemia.
The drug is designed to target leukaemia with a mixed-lineage leukaemia (MLL) fusion gene. This MLL gene is present in the majority of cases of infant leukaemia (classed as those children under one year old when diagnosed). It is associated with a poor response to treatment - while 90% of patients now survive childhood leukaemia in general, survival rates for infant leukaemia are much lower, at less than 50%. The MLL gene is also found in a small percentage of adult leukaemia patients.
Research by Cambridge University scientists, published in the journal Nature, demonstrated that the new drug, called I-BET151, is very effective at killing these leukaemia cells in the laboratory.
Ken Campbell, Clinical Information Officer at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This drug is still in the early stages and it will be some years before it is available to patients, but it does show particular promise. Patients with the MLL gene tend to have much poorer survival rates, so any advances in this area are very important.
“It should be pointed out that this drug could be effective at treating any patient with the MLL gene present in their leukaemia and not, as the press has almost universally reported, just those patients with mixed-lineage leukaemia itself.”