Gwen Nichols, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
“It’s the golden age of cancer research right now,” said Lee Greenberger, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). The LLS is the largest nonprofit funder of cutting-edge blood cancer research for every type of blood cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other rare blood cancers.
“Something very dramatic is happening because we’ve learned so much about how these blood cancer cells operate,” Greenberger explained. “A lot of drugs have been developed and we know how to develop them.”
Since launching in 1949, LLS has invested nearly $1.3 billion in cancer research, which has led to advances in immunotherapy, personalized medicine, and genomics. Since 2017, LLS has helped advance 43 of the 49 blood cancer treatment options approved by the FDA. Their research is also having a significant impact on therapies for other cancers.
The organization has also launched The LLS Children’s Initiative, a $50M multi-year endeavor, with a bold vision for young patients to not only survive their cancer but thrive in their lives after treatment.
“Ninety percent of children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia will be cured,” said Greenberger, explaining there’s a lot of progress in blood cancer research as it’s very easy to sample blood or bone marrow, compared to sampling solid tumors. “But many of these children will suffer long-term effects from their treatment, and children who get acute myeloid leukemia have a much lower survival rate. So the need remains urgent to find better treatments.”
One of the exciting most exciting advancements is immunotherapy, which uses a patient’s immune system to fight cancer.
A promising therapy
Researchers have been developing one type of immunotherapy, Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapy (CAR-T), for more than 20 years. LLS has invested more than $40 million to advance CAR-T and other so-called adoptive cell therapies.
During CAR-T, a patient’s T cells are genetically modified in a lab to recognize and attack targeted tumor cells. The reprogrammed T cells act as a living drug, remaining in the patient’s body months or years after infusion, destroying all of the cancer cells and helping protect against recurrence.
“If it can cause cures with a single dose of CAR-T in the worst-case patients, imagine what it can do for patients who are newly diagnosed,” Greenberger said. “It’s an absolute game-changer.”
Many blood cancer patients who have received the CAR-T treatment have experienced long-term remissions. One of the first patients to receive the therapy has been disease-free for eight years.
With the success of CAR-T, researchers are now trying to use the same approach in solid tumors.
“We are confident,” Greenberger said. “If we can cure some of these blood cancers, we can probably cure many of them. It’s just a matter of time, money, and effort.”
Gwen Nichols, M.D. Chief Medical Officer, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, [email protected]