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Another reason for hope

Charles Mullighan, MBBS(Hons), MSc, MD

Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment is one of the 20th Century’s great cancer success stories. Today more than 90 percent of children with ALL become long-term survivors, compared to just 4 percent in 1962 when St. Jude opened its doors. But the outlook is not as bright for patients with high risk forms of the disease. These young people are less likely to be cured. A new St. Jude-led study offers hope to high-risk patients with a subtype of ALL known as Philadelphia chromosome-like ALL.

Researchers found new genetic changes that drive the development of Ph-like ALL, and showed that patients may benefit from treatment with drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. The drugs already have U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The medicines are widely used to treat forms of leukemia that are more common in adults. Planning is underway for clinical trials to determine if the drugs can help patients with Ph-like ALL live longer.

“This study leads the way for clinical trials that could help transform the outlook for patients with this high-risk leukemia subtype regardless of their age,” said corresponding author Charles Mullighan, MD, MBBS(Hons), of St. Jude Pathology. The study also found Ph-like ALL is more common among young adults than children or adolescents.

The research appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

September 10, 2014

Read the news release