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T-Cell Therapy Eradicates An Aggressive Leukemia In Two Children





-- CHOP/Penn Medicine Oncology Team Reports Complete Remission in Pediatric ALL Patients

PHILADELPHIA, March 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Two children with an aggressive form of childhood leukemia had a complete remission of their disease—showing no evidence of cancer cells in their bodies—after treatment with a novel cell therapy that reprogrammed their immune cells to rapidly multiply and destroy leukemia cells. A research team from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania published the case report of two pediatric patients Online First today in The New England Journal of Medicine. It will appear in the April 18 print issue.

One of the patients, 7-year-old Emily Whitehead, was featured in news stories in December 2012 after the experimental therapy led to her dramatic recovery after she relapsed following conventional treatment. Emily remains healthy and cancer-free, 11 months after receiving bioengineered T cells that zeroed in on a target found in this type of leukemia, called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

The other patient, a 10-year-old girl, who also had a complete response to the same treatment, suffered a relapse two months later when other leukemia cells appeared that did not harbor the specific cell receptor targeted by the therapy.

"This study describes how these cells have a potent anticancer effect in children," said co-first author Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where both patients were treated in this clinical trial. "However, we also learned that in some patients with ALL, we will need to further modify the treatment to target other molecules on the surface of leukemia cells."

Grupp is the director of Translational Research for the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Michael Kalos, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn, is co-first author on the study.

The current study builds on Grupp's ongoing collaboration with Penn Medicine scientists who originally developed the modified T cells as a treatment for B-cell leukemias. The Penn team reported on early successful results of a trial using this cell therapy in three adult chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients in August of 2011. Two of those patients remain in remission more than 2½ years following their treatment, and as the Penn researchers reported in December 2012 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, seven out of ten adult patients treated at that point responded to the therapy. The team is led by the current study's senior author, Carl H. June, M.D., the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Translational Research in Penn's Abramson Cancer Center.

"We're hopeful that our efforts to treat patients with these personalized cellular therapies will reduce or even replace the need for bone marrow transplants, which carry a high mortality risk and require long hospitalizations," June said. "In the long run, if the treatment is effective in these late-stage patients, we would like to explore using it up front, and perhaps arrive at a point where leukemia can be treated without chemotherapy."

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