Anti-malaria drug paves way for targeted therapy

Amit Budhraja, PhD, and Joseph Opferman, PhD

From left: Amit Budhraja, PhD, and Joseph Opferman, PhD

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 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.

Read the news release.

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