St. Jude scientists have shown that an anti-malaria drug sensitizes a high-risk subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to treatment. The discovery raises hopes for more effective therapy.
The study focused on BCR-ABL+ ALL, also known as Philadelphia chromosome+ ALL. This subtype accounts for about 5 percent of childhood ALL cases and about 40 percent of adult ALL cases.
Five-year survival for children with this subtype is about 70 percent and about 50 percent for adults. The path to a cure involves intensive chemotherapy and blood stem cell transplants.
BCR-ABL+ ALL has resisted targeted therapies that have been successful with other leukemias.
In this study, researchers showed that an anti-malaria drug called DHA made cancer cells sensitive to a drug called ABT-263. The scientists also showed how that happened.
“Our findings suggest that combining DHA with ABT-263 can significantly improve treatment response,” said Joseph Opferman, PhD, of St. Jude Cell and Molecular Biology.
A report on this work appeared in Clinical Cancer Research.