Can science really direct a patient’s cells to treat – and possibly cure – his/her own life-threatening disease?

Years ago, it may have sounded like the stuff of science fiction. Today, it’s saving the lives of patients who need it most.

By genetically altering and boosting special immune cells of patients suffering from certain forms of cancer, those cells – often referred to as a “living drug” – may serve to eliminate the disease.

Using the viral vector, T cells are genetically encoded to recognize cancer cells and other B cells expressing CD19

Using the viral vector, T cells are genetically encoded to recognize cancer cells and other B cells expressing CD19

Currently still largely in trial phase, these innovative treatments are being utilized to treat a whole host of diseases, ranging from leukemia to myeloma to brain tumors. But now, for the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee has recommended approval a chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy for patients with a specific blood cancer.

Biopharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, are at the forefront of exploring these gene and cell therapies, ultimately bringing them to market to benefit thousands of patients. Gene and cell therapies are part of a new class of medicines in immuno-oncology, which rely on the body’s own immune system to fight disease. Today, more than 240 immuno-oncology medicines are in development.

As can be expected, implementing this new treatment is highly complex.

The personalized nature of each patient’s disease, and subsequent treatment, means that each may be treated with a truly individualized approach. For this reason, widespread implementation of this treatment will take time, as hospitals, universities and oncologists across the country are trained on the intricacies of this innovation.

Thus far, those undergoing these groundbreaking treatments have seen powerful results. This is particularly significant because alternative options had been exhausted for the majority of these patients. This new approach to treatment – truly heralding a new era in medicine – is giving months and years back to those facing an otherwise uncertain future.

These “living drugs” truly represent the exciting promise of personalized medicine, and most importantly, the potential to transform the lives of patients.