While chemotherapy kills leukemia cells directly, immunotherapies alert the immune system so your body can use its own natural defenses to fight the disease. Immunotherapy is sometimes used in addition to chemotherapy for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and it can also be an option for CLL patients who cannot undergo chemotherapy.
Pioneering clinical research conducted at Roswell Park showed for the first time that the immunotherapy lenalidomide can trigger a response in CLL patients — including some whose disease did not respond to previous treatments. Lenalidomide is associated with minimal side effects.
Even though two patients have been diagnosed with the same type of leukemia, they may not respond in the same way to the same treatment. Advanced testing, such as flow cytometry, reveals that the disease can be very different in those two patients at the level of molecules inside cancer cells. For example, specific proteins may be present on the surface of the cancer cells in some patients but not in others.
New targeted drugs called monoclonal antibodies are being developed to knock out those specific proteins or target other unique characteristics of each patient’s cancer cells. Like a magnet, they find and attach themselves to the target on the cancer cells and then deliver agents that will kill the cancer cells only, usually without affecting healthy cells. This is the idea behind personalized medicine.
Roswell Park is a national leader in clinical research evaluating the use of the targeted therapy Gleevec® for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We are a global leader in clinical research examining the use of the targeted therapy Rituxan® (rituximab) in treating CLL. Roswell Park researchers are working continually to develop new targeted therapies that will help turn the tide for our leukemia patients.
Search the Roswell Park Clinical Trials website to find open clinical research studies of targeted therapies for various types of leukemia.