A Lifeline for Blood Cancer image
09/01/2018

Innovative Treatments Are Harnessing Patients’ Own Cells to Power the Fight Against Cancer

For Justin, childhood was a challenging journey. At just 7 years old, Justin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer. After successfully completing his first three-year treatment plan, Justin’s cancer returned. Now a teenager, Justin has battled cancer for more than half his life, but miraculously, a new therapy to battle blood cancers like Justin’s was what ultimately put him in remission. As a CAR-T patient, Justin remains resilient and hopeful for his own future, as the treatment has given him new hope, even with the setbacks he’s faced. Now, other patients and families can have hope for their path to longer, healthier lives as well.

Leukemia Infographic image
Leukemia Infographic image

Researchers Making An Impact

While certain blood cancers may be common in children, biopharmaceutical researchers like Boris are setting their sights with medicines that fight back. Boris initially began his career in academia, but soon entered into biopharmaceutical research to bridge the gap between advanced study and patients, bringing innovations to those who need them. Now, as a specialist in immuno-oncology, Boris pioneers better, powerful medicines that help the body’s own immune system to battle cancer. One development that particularly excites him is personalized medicine—specifically chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, whose origins are rooted in academic research, the same therapy that changed Justin’s life. With this approach, “It’s being manufactured or generated for every single patient. We teach [white blood cells] how to fight cancer, and give them back to the patient.” And while implementing this treatment can be highly complex, the future for cancer patients has never been more promising.

 

We have a new angle in fighting cancer, and it’s changing people’s lives.

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Boris Engels Immuno-oncology Researcher image

Boris Engels

Immuno-oncology Researcher

The Caregiver Perspective

While patients and researchers battle disease every day, caregivers also play an essential role in the fight. For Amy, Justin’s mother, enduring her son’s initial diagnosis was incredibly difficult; the news that his cancer had returned was equally devastating. “I think every mom in that situation who's told that their child has cancer says, ‘No. Give me the cancer, because they're just a kid.’” But as science advanced thanks to researchers like Boris, Amy watched Justin’s body eradicate a cancer inside of him with the help of CAR-T therapy. As both mother and caregiver to Justin, Amy has been amazed by his own strength and the resilience of researchers relentlessly searching for answers about the body and new ways to attack disease.

Witness the moment Justin meets Boris, the researcher who helped develop the CAR-T therapy that saved his life.

The Latest Innovations

Blood cancers spread differently in the body than other cancers. Certain blood cancers originate in bone marrow, which impacts how blood cells produce and function. The cancer then moves quickly to the blood, causing cancerous cells to spread throughout the body. Because most blood cancers can’t be prevented or screened for, the health care community is focused on finding cures. With CAR-T therapy, immune cells are extracted from a patient, genetically altered to better recognize and battle a particular cancer, and inserted back into the body to boost their own fighting power. Ultimately, these modified cells—often referred to as a “living drug”—may help eliminate the disease.

 

While still largely in trial phases, CAR-T therapies may one day be used to treat multiple diseases, including leukemia, myeloma, and brain tumors. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CAR-T therapies to treat certain children and young adults with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as adult patients with relapsed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Biopharmaceutical companies are leading exploration for these groundbreaking therapies to ultimately deliver them to the patients who need them. And while personalized medicine requires a highly technical, individualized approach, researchers are continually refining this therapy, and others, to improve their development and power results. Currently, there are more than 334 medicines in development to treat a variety of blood cancers. These gene and cell therapies represent a new class of medicine for immuno-oncology and a brighter future for patients battling cancer.

Blood Cancer Medicines Infographic image
Blood Cancer Medicines Infographic image

Together, We’ll Conquer Blood Cancer

In this new era of medicine, researchers transform promising potential into lifesaving progress. Revolutionary “living drugs” like CAR-T represent the power personalized medicine has to combat diseases like cancer and help patients live fuller, longer lives. These new approaches to medicine do more than treat—they help give back time to patients like Justin and their families. And with researchers like Boris tirelessly working to break further ground in cancer research, the future is brighter than ever.