New treatment significantly improves chances of babies with acute leukemia: Dutch study

New research showed that a drug that stimulates the immune system to clear up cancer cells could significantly improve the survival chance of babies with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Of the babies who received the drug blinatumomab in combination with chemotherapy, 93 percent were still alive two years after diagnosis. With chemotherapy alone, the two-year survival rate is 66 percent, the Volkskrant reports.

The international study was led by Dutch researchers from the Princess Maxima Center for Pediatric Oncology. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday evening.

Blinatumomab is a form of immunotherapy that works on two fronts. One arm clings to a surface protein called CD-19, which is found in many leukemia cells. The other arm binds to an immune cell, a T cell, which then deals a fatal blow to the leukemia cell.

“It is really fantastic that we have now also made such great progress in babies with ALL. Blinatumomab has already been used in older children and adults as an adjunct to chemotherapy. Now we know that babies also tolerate the drug well and have even fewer side effects,” said lead researcher Inge van der Sluis, a pediatric oncologist and clinical pharmacologist at the Princess Maxima Center. Treatment takes four weeks and costs 24,000 euros per child.

The new study was, admittedly, small, following 30 children in nine countries between 2018 and 2021 treated with blinatumomab and chemotherapy. The researchers compared the results with those of 214 children treated with chemo alone in the years before. But the results were so remarkable that a second, more extensive study is already underway, involving 160 babies with ALL in 27 countries.

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