Immune drug fights cancer, German researchers claim

Hamburg, Germany - A drug which encourages the body's own immune system to fight cancer cells has left some patients free of the disease in a new trial, according to a team of German scientists.

The study, published in the journal Science, showed low doses of the drug Blinatumomab were effective in treating non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The medication works by interacting with T cells, a white blood cell, which then destroy the cancerous cells.

Dr Ralf Bargou and colleagues from the University of Wuerzburg; the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and other medical and academic centres, as well as the biopharmaceutical company Micromet, the manufacturer of the drug used in the study, carried out this research.

In this study, 39 people with incurable, non-responsive (to conventional therapies), non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma (a type of cancer affecting the lymph nodes in the body) with measurable disease (at least one tumour bigger than 1.5cm) were included.

They received blinatumomab through a portable continuous intravenous infusion device for four to eight weeks.

This drug is a synthetic antibody that recruits T-cells, which are helpful in the immune response, and carries them to tumour sites. These T-cells then bind to the surface of tumours and destroy them. Because of this property to engage T-cells, the antibody is known as a BiTE antibody (bispecific T-cell engager).

Overall, the researchers found no response in 12 patients who were taking lower doses of the drug. Of 19 patients receiving treatment at one of the middle two-dose categories, there was regression of the tumour to some degree in four of them - two of these were complete regression and two were partial regression.

Of the seven patients taking the highest dose of blinatumomab, all had some response - two with complete regression and five with partial regression.

These were patients who were given a prognosis of death within two years, according to Patrick Baeuerle, chief scientific officer for MicroMet. One has been in remission for more than a year took the drug for two months, nine months ago.

The study was funded by the Interdisciplinary Centre of Clinical Research at the University of Wuerzburg. Some of the researchers note that they are inventors of and hold patents for some of the techniques and drugs used in this study. (dpa)