Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine are hopeful the combination of the experimental drug cirmtuzumab along with ibrutinub can halt the progression of chronic B-cell cancers. In an article published in the June 1 issue of Cell Stem Cell, researchers reported that treatment of 26 chronic leukemia patients with the experimental drug combination appeared to stop the disease’s progress.
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“Patients received only a short course of treatment and this appeared to halt disease progression, allowing most patients to forego any additional therapy for more than eight months,” Dr. Michael Choi, assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego, noted in a recent UC San Diego Health Newsroom report. “This is noteworthy as the patients who enrolled in the trial had leukemia that was getting worse and causing disruption of normal blood production or other clinical problems.”
Additional clinical studies with a goal of 117 patients at 15 sites across the U.S., including the Alpha Stem Cell Clinic at UC San Diego Health, are scheduled to be completed by 2022. The trial is being conducted in collaboration with Oncternal Therapeutics in San Diego.
The combined drug trial was launched in August 2017 by a $18.29 million grant from the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). It is being headed by Dr. Thomas Kipps, professor of medicine and deputy director of research at UC San Diego Moores Center in collaboration with the UC San Diego CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic.
In a 2017 UC San Diego Health article, Kipps noted the experimental drug targets cancer stem cells, “which behave somewhat like the roots of the disease, resisting many forms of treatment and allowing a malignancy to grow back after apparently successful therapy. By targeting cancer stem cells, cirmtuzumab may improve our capacity to achieve more complete and longer lasting remissions when used in combination with targeted drugs, such as ibrutinib, or other anti-cancer drugs for the treatment of patients with many different types of cancer.”
The drug was developed in Kipps’ laboratory with funding from CIRM’s HALT leukemia grant awarded to principal investigator Dr. Dennis Carson and Dr. Catriona Jamieson, deputy director of the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center and director of stem cell research at Moores Cancer Center. It targets a cell surface protein found on tumors, but not on normal adult tissue.
Ibrutinib, marketed as Imbruvica, has been approved to treat B-cell cancers, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and mantel cell lymphoma (MLL). It is a small molecule drug that inhibits Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, a protein that promotes cancer cell survival and growth.
Funding comes from CIRM, the institute’s Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, the Moores Cancer Center Specialized Cancer Center Support Grant, the UC San Diego Foundation Blood Cancer Research Fund, the Koman Family Foundation as well as grants from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the National Institutes of Health.
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