Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of leukemia in which a group of white blood cells, called lymphocytes, are affected. Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children, and about 80 percent of children with leukemia have acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy was approved in August 2017 for the treatment of pediatric and young adult patients with B-cell ALL that has relapsed or hasn’t responded to previous treatments. The decision marked the first time that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CAR T-cell therapy for a form of cancer.
“It’s a very exciting development in our ability to treat childhood ALL,” Lewis Silverman, MD, Clinical Director of the Hematologic Malignancy Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, said in a Facebook Live Q&A on September 27. “It offers hope to those that we haven’t been able to treat with conventional therapy.”
CAR T-cell therapy, like all forms of cancer immunotherapy, seeks to sharpen and strengthen the immune system’s inherent cancer-fighting powers. It involves treating patients with modified versions of their own immune system T cells – white blood cells that help protect the body from disease. Because the therapy is only approved for patients with relapsed or refractory ALL, Silverman says a future challenge will be to examine how CAR T-cell therapy could fit into the overall treatment of pediatric ALL patients – for example, whether it could be introduced early in patients who having a high risk of relapse.
In the live broadcast, Silverman also addressed side effects of CAR T-cell therapy, as well as the potential of immunotherapy and precision medicine to treat pediatric ALL patients.
“This is a hugely exciting time in childhood leukemia research,” he said.
View the full discussion with Silverman below:
Learn more about CAR T-cell therapy from the Cellular Therapies Program at Dana-Farber.