T-cell therapy results more modest than hoped for chronic leukemia

September 08, 2015

Four years ago, University of Pennsylvania researchers published early but electrifying results. An experimental T-cell therapy eradicated end-stage leukemia in two patients, and put a third in remission.

Soon after that, pharmaceutical giant Novartis partnered with Penn, aiming to commercialize the breakthrough.

Since then, a more modest picture of success has emerged in treating the blood cancer, a type called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that usually strikes in middle age or later.

Walter J. Urba, director of research at Providence Cancer Center in Portland, Ore., wrote an editorial four years ago cautioning that only wider testing would show whether Penn's "impressive" initial results were "an authentic advance" for CLL.

Last week, Urba said Penn's T-cell therapy "remains very exciting," despite the costs and toxic side effects. "Everything we do in oncology is a risk-benefit balance," Urba said. "I suspect that over time we'll have better T-cell therapies, maybe given with other immune therapies."

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