Driving Impact Beyond Blood Cancers
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is at the forefront of the fight to cure cancer.
Lifesaving breakthroughs – from precision medicine to immunotherapies – have emerged from researching cancer cells in the blood, which are easier to access and study than those in solid tumors. Many pivotal discoveries have originated from LLS-funded research, and these game changing insights and treatment approaches are now helping patients with other cancers and diseases. That’s why we can say proudly: “Beating Cancer is in Our Blood.”
Blood Cancer Research Leads The Way
Chemotherapy, medicine used to kill cancer cells, was established first for leukemia, and later used to treat other cancers.
The 1970s brought an early understanding of genomics, which is the study of genes and their functions, laying the groundwork for precision medicine approaches to treatment.
The 1990s saw the first FDA approval of a revolutionary targeted therapy to treat leukemia. Imatinib (Gleevec®) was the first drug to target the kinase enzyme. Today, 40+ kinase inhibitors are approved to treat other cancers.
LLS played an instrumental role in advancing immunotherapy. In 2017, two CAR T-cell immunotherapies were FDA approved for blood cancers. This game changing approach is now being tested in more than 500 clinical trials for other cancers.
Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, uncovered that mutations in blood cells of otherwise normal, healthy individuals are associated with a higher probability of developing blood cancers later in life. Dr. Ebert’s research went even deeper: his lab was the first to demonstrate that these mutations are also associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. The discovery opens up the possibility of preventative medicine to identify people at risk of developing disease years before it occurs and ultimately, devise treatment strategies to mitigate the risk.
Selina Chen-Kiang, PhD, Weill Cornell Medicine, discovered an innovative treatment approach that is helping both blood and breast cancer patients. While her work is focused on myeloma and lymphoma, Dr. Chen-Kiang’s discovery that a targeted therapy was effective in blocking an enzyme responsible for the division and proliferation of cancer cells, helped lead the way to that therapy, palbociclib, receiving approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015 for breast cancer. With LLS support, Dr. Chen-Kiang is leading a cutting-edge research team to test palbociclib’s effectiveness in treating patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).
Ron Levy, MD, Stanford University, pioneered a treatment approach that uses the body’s immune system to develop antibodies against invading tumor cells. His foundational work resulted in the FDA approval of the first monoclonal antibody to treat cancer, rituximab, in 1997, which is now used to treat many lymphomas and rheumatoid arthritis. Today, Dr. Levy is moving immunotherapy in a bold direction. With support from LLS’s Therapy Acceleration Program (TAP), he is testing an experimental, immune-boosting vaccine among patients with lymphoma – an approach that also shows promise for breast, colon and melanoma cancers.
Revolutionary Approaches For Blood Cancer
are now being tested in clinical trials with other cancers and diseases, including:
A Dedicated LLS Volunteer Benefits from a Therapy First Approved for Blood Cancer
Valerie was in college when her father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2005. When Valerie learned about Team In Training® (TNT), she felt inspired to take action and raise funds, and made many new friends along the way. Sadly, her father passed away in 2009. After losing her father, Valerie became even more committed to making a difference. She continued to volunteer through LLS’s Palm Beach Area Chapter and in 2010, she won Palm Beach Woman of the Year after an intense 10-week fundraising campaign. Then, five years ago, Valerie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was prescribed alemtuzumab – the same treatment that her father had taken for CLL. This targeted therapy, first approved by the FDA to treat patients with CLL in 2001, is also approved for patients with multiple sclerosis who have relapsed after previous treatment. Today, Valerie is doing well and still runs marathons. She is dedicated to helping cancer patients through her volunteer work with LLS and her career as a hematology/oncology physician assistant.