18 April 2019
AML kills more than half of those who suffer from it. Photo:
AML kills more than half of those who suffer from it. Photo:

Leukemia drug heals sick cells rather than killing them

A drug that takes a radically new approach to treating blood cancer shows promise, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A mutation in some white blood cells prevents them from growing normally and fulfilling their purpose of fighting infection. 

These rogue cells end up making the patient sick with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and similar blood cancers.

The new drug, AG-221, doesn’t kill the immature leukemia cells but instead  “turns off the switch keeping them from maturing”, researcher Eytan Stein said.

“Instead of killing the cancer, you’re transforming it into a normal cell.”

Researchers reported Sunday that blocking the mutation with AG-221 to allow the cells to grow normally led to complete or partial remissions in 25, or 56 percent, of 45 patients with advanced AML or two other blood cancers in an ongoing early study.

About 19,000 new cases of AML are expected in the United States this year, accounting for about one-third of all cases of leukemia, American Cancer Society figures show. About 10,500 will die, mostly older adults.

There have been few new treatment advances for the disease in decades, researchers said.

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