Cancer of the immune system, called lymphoma or leukaemia, generally affects the entire body’s bone marrow and lymph nodes. Because these types of cancers are so widespread, surgery isn’t useful, so patients are usually treated with chemotherapy. Although these treatments have become significantly better in the past ten years, lymphoma and chronic leukaemia often come back months or years after treatment.
Effective treatment options for these types of cancer become increasingly limited over time as tumours become resistant to chemotherapy after several rounds of treatment. For most patients, a cure is out of reach, so the goal of treatment is instead to control the cancer for as long as possible. There’s a huge need to improve therapies that can eliminate cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and prevent the disease from reoccurring.
However, my colleagues and I recently identified a new achilles heel or blood cancers. Our research found that treating the normal cells near to the cancer cells with a type of drug known as small molecule inhibitors significantly improved the effects of a broad range of chemotherapies.
In fact, in one test, this combination therapy extended the length of survival over 90% longer than using chemotherapy alone. This shows that cancer cells which would normally have resisted and survived chemotherapy, could now be eliminated from the body. Not only does this give patients a new kind of treatment, it also has the potential to cure patients who have to live with the disease for the rest of their lives.