Henry Winter
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Using the immune system to fight acute myeloid leukaemia

Henry Winter
Posted by
25 Jun 2014

The Times reports today on the great news of how a promising new treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia will be developed further following investment from the Cell Therapy Catapult – a new government programme to develop the UK cell therapy industry.

This specific ‘immunotherapy’ treatment, which uses the body’s white blood cells to fight cancer, has been funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research from its development in the laboratory to its transition into clinical trials.

Patients’ white blood cells (T cells), which help the body fight infection, are taken and modified in a laboratory to specifically fight leukaemia cells. This works through the transfer of a gene to the T cells that allows them to recognise a protein called WT1.

The WT1 protein is ‘expressed’ on the surface of myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukaemia cells at very high levels, so when the T cells are reintroduced into to the patient, they seek out leukaemia cells and bind to them. As the patient’s immune system will always retain some of these WT1 protein-recognising T cells, a relapse should trigger an immune response.

The Cell Therapy Catapult will invest up to £10m to take the treatment into and through Phase II trials, providing a full range of expertise including manufacturing development and clinical trial sponsorship.

The treatment was developed initially at Imperial College and then at University College London (UCL) by scientists funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. 

“The scientific discoveries leading up to this exciting phase I clinical trial have been funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research,” says UCL clinical academic Dr Emma Morris, who is Chief Investigator on the trial. “Their support of myself, Professor Hans Stauss and our research team have made this possible. I would particularly like to praise the charity for continuing to support us as we have, at times, struggled with the complexities of translating a completely new type of medicine (genetically engineered immune cells) to the point of testing in patients."

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, says, “The Cell Therapy Catapult’s investment to accelerate this trial is great news for patients with these hard-to-treat blood cancers, who often do not respond to traditional drugs like chemotherapy.”

You can read the article in The Times here (subscription required).

Dr Emma Morris is also taking on an incredible challenge on 20th July to raise money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research - the UK Ironman, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle, followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles). You can sponsor Emma here



This is potentially brilliant news for AML patients. Fingers-crossed this trial proves a huge success and becomes a standard treatment for all patients suffering from this horrible disease.