Our Immune System Might Just Be the Cure for Cancer

After years and years of searching for the cure for cancer, who knew that it could literally be inside all of us this entire time?

“Living Drug”

CAR-T cell immunotherapy (or CTL019) is the latest cancer treatment. It’s been turning heads in the science community lately because it uses our own immune system against cancerous cells. When undergoing this treatment, doctors take T cells from our immune systems, freeze them, modify them so that they target cancerous cells, multiply, and then refreeze.

Afterward, the T cells are brought back into the patient’s body, where it will reproduce and basically become an army that will destroy cancer cells inside the patient’s body. Due to it coming from the patient’s own body, CAR-T cell immunotherapy has become known as the “living drug.” The whole treatment will last 22 days.

A Huge Success

Based on a study conducted by pharmaceutical company Novartis wherein 63 patients in 11 different countries partook of the treatment, a whopping 82 per cent of them (or 52 patients) went into remission. Because of this, there’s a good chance that the treatment will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, especially after its Oncologic Drugs Advisory Board gave it a unanimous approval.

Children First

Once the treatment does get approved, Novartis will prioritize children in the United States from ages three to 25 years old with B cell lymphoblastic leukemia. With 600 patients a year, it is no doubt the most common type of cancer of children in America.

A Dream Come True?

Novartis admits that the “living drug” is not without its side effects. Side effects range from relatively harmless – fever, seizures, delirium, flulike symptoms – to downright deadly – like the cytokine release syndrome, wherein the modified T cells attack the patient's vital organs.

“A New Hope for Patients”

Despite the side effects, scientists remain optimistic about the new discovery. Oncologist and Oncologic Drugs Advisory Board panel member shared with NPR that it’s the “most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime.” Dr. David Lebwohl, who is the head of Novartis’ CAR-T Franchise Global Program, is convinced that the treatment is a “new hope for patients.”