Scientists discover drug that could fight blood cancer without toxic side effects

Scientists have discovered a new leukaemia drug that can fight the blood cancer in patients without causing toxic side effects.

The research on asciminib, the leukemia drug — which was tested on humans for the first time — was published on Thursday, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Leukaemia is a cancer which starts in blood-forming tissue, usually the bone marrow. It leads to the over-production of abnormal white blood cells, the part of the immune system which defends the body against infection.

blood cancer

CML, a form of leukaemia, is a slow-growing cancer of the blood which mostly affects older people.

Several research works have been done in a bid to provide drugs that could fight the disease. This led to the discovery of kinase inhibitors.

But scientists said such drugs are accompanied with several dangers including vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle pain and can also fizzle after a given period of time.

A new discovery, however, has shown asciminib — an experimental drug which perform the same function as other kinase inhibitors — can treat chronic leukemia without such side effects.

Scientists believed the drug is a “breakthrough” after several researches have been conducted to find a drug that can treat CML without side effect.

To arrive at the conclusion, the scientists experimented the new drug, using 150 cancer patients, 141 patients with chronic-phase and 9 with accelerated-phase chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) who had resistance to or unacceptable side effects from at least two previous ATP-competitive tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).

The patients were given doses of between 10mg and 200mg of asciminib once or twice a day with a follow up for around 14 months.

It was discovered that the asciminib was more effective in targeting affected cells in the blood.

Although five patients recorded pancreatitis – a swollen pancreas — as side effects, the researchers said the test was a success. It was also found the drug was well tolerated among the 150 patients used for the experiment.

The drug was an improvement over the first tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) called imatinib introduced in the 1990s.

“[Imatinib] changed CML from a death sentence to a disease that in many patients could be managed until they lived to a ripe old age,” Tim Hughes, a co-author of the study, said.

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“But while imatinib and subsequent TKIs have been very effective at improving survival, they frequently cause serious side-effects.”

Alasdair Rankin, the director of research at leukaemia charity bloodwise, said the new drug would provide further alternatives to CML patients who have exhausted several options without any positive result.

“Some treatments start to fail and patients have to move on,’ she told Daily Mail.

“Many people are able to move on, but it’s really worrying that some people run out of options. It’s a first-in-man trial so they’re trying to see if it’s toxic or not. The study’s in a high profile journal because it’s had good results.

“This could be lifesaving for people who have failed treatment on existing TKIs – this is a new option for them, although we would say more research needs to be done.”

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Ihesiulo Grace

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