Innovation in Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Recently, we covered how pharmaceutical innovation has led to treatment breakthroughs for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. This innovation has also led to tremendous progress made to treat another type of leukemia: chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Today, we’ll cover an introduction to this form of leukemia, as well as how innovative research has led to tremendous treatment breakthroughs and opportunity.

What Is Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

This type of cancer, also known as chronic myeloid leukemia, is relatively uncommon. It accounts for approximately 10 to 15% of all leukemia diagnoses, and typically affects adults older than age 40.

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • 8,220 new cases will be diagnosed in 2016
  • 1,070 individuals will die of chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2016

This cancer primarily affects the individual’s bone marrow and blood, originating in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. Over time, these cancerous cells then spread to the individual’s blood. While lympocyctic leukemia begins in the lymphocytes, myelogenous leukemia begins in the myeloid cells.

Both lymphocytes and myeloids typically become white blood cells, over time. However, for an individual with a form of chronic leukemia, these abnormal cells do not fight infections well and begin to crowd out healthy white blood cells individuals need to survive. Chronic leukemias can progress slowly, allowing individuals to live for many years, however, treatments are often necessary.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Treatments

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and stem cell transplants are all treatments that are used to treat this type of leukemia.

One of the more recent advancements that has been used to treat this leukemia is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy drugs get to the root of what causes chronic myelogenous cells to exist.

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells contain an oncogene, BCR-ABL, that isn’t found in normal cells. This gene makes a protein, BCR-ABL, which causes CML cells to grow and reproduce out of control. BCR-ABL is a type of protein known as a tyrosine kinase. Drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that target BCR-ABL are the standard treatment for CML. –

These targeted therapies help to limit the damage against the healthy cells that are already being overpowered by the cancerous ones. By targeting just the cancerous cells, unlike treatments such as chemotherapy, which have a more widespread effect, these therapies can make the cancer’s progression slow significantly. As they do not single-handedly cure cancer, patients using these targeted therapies are typically on them indefinitely to keep their health from further declining.

Imatinib was the first TKI approved, gaining FDA approval in 2001 after decades of research that reviewed the Philadelphia chromosome: an abnormality in chromosome 22 that 95% of all chronic myelogenous leukemia patients have. Since then, survival rates of these patients have nearly tripled.

Since the development of that first TKI, many more have been approved to treat patients with various mutations that prevent imatinib from working. While the 5-year survival rate was just 30 percent prior to the use of TKIs, the comprehensive collection of options developed in the past 15 years has helped to provide many patients with near-normal lifespans (PhRMA).

Innovation in Cancer & Rare Disease Treatments

Targeted therapies are the result of thousands of research hours, but this research is not done. Many researchers are still devoting their work to finding new treatments for chronic myeloid leukemia and other rare diseases. Only 5% of all rare diseases has an approved treatment option. If you have a rare disease, make sure to ask your doctor about potential clinical trials you could participate in. Your participation in this research can help more treatment breakthroughs occur.