Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a type of blood cancer which accounts for 20 percent of all leukemia cases in adults. The often fatal disease is also extremely expensive, with treatment costing up to $100,000 a year. New research suggests that a combination treatment could address both these obstacles by wiping out the disease and doing so in a much cheaper way. Although the drug has been tested on only a few patients, the FDA has fast-tracked approval for its use in the U.S.

In a study now published online in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers combined the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), with another inhibitor drug known as venetoclax and observed encouraging responses and cure rates in lab mice.

"Our results demonstrate that this study in mice employing combined blockade of BCL-2 and BCR-ABL has the potential for curing CML and significantly improving outcomes for patients with blast crisis, and, as such, warrants clinical testing," said Dr. Michael Andreeff, co-author of the study in a recent statement. "This combination strategy may also apply to other malignancies that depend on kinase signaling for progression and maintenance."

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. Most cases of CML occur in adults, although rarely it can occur in children as well, The American Cancer Society reported.

Normally, TKI is the most successful therapy for CML, but unfortunately it cannot completely eliminate CML stem cells. As a result, the persistent stem cells often return and patients must remain on the drugs for the rest of their lives, but most patients cannot afford the $100,000 per year treatment. However, when combined with venetoclax, the residual cells were destroyed, eliminating the need for lifelong treatment. According to Science Alert, venetoclax works by not killing off the cancer cells but rather re-establishing the balance of the body’s immune system and letting the immune system finish off fighting the disease.

Although the combination treatment has only been tested on mice so far, the team hope that these results could hint at a future cost-effective way to treat this type of cancer.

Source: Andreeff M, Carter BZ, Mak PY. Combined targeting of BCL-2 and BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase eradicates chronic myeloid leukemia stem cells. Science Translational Medicine. 2016

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