Tag: gene therapy

Bioethics News

The FDA Approves a Landmark Cancer Drug

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The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a new therapy to treat leukemia in kids and young adults—a decision whose importance is as much symbolic as it is practical.

Kymriah, from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, is a cancer therapy that represents several things at once: a game-changing way to treat cancer through genetic engineering, a novel paradigm for the biotech business, and the latest turn in the debate over just how astronomically expensive a life-saving therapy can be.

Kymriah is strikingly effective for young patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, but it is far more involved than taking a pill or getting an infusion. It requires inserting a human-designed gene into a patient’s own T cells so they recognize and ferociously attack cancer cells. Researchers began modifying T cells for patients in the 1990s—and now the technology called CAR T-cell therapy is finally ready for prime time in treating cancer.

Of several dozen ALL patients in a clinical trial for Kymriah, 83 percent were cancer-free after three months. It is a lifeline for patients in which traditional treatments like chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplants had failed. When the FDA’s advisory committee initially voted in favor of approving Kymriah, one member called it “the most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime” for childhood leukemia. Novartis is hardly the only company interested in CAR T. Kymriah is the first approved therapy, but several clinical trials—mostly notably Kite Pharma’s for lymphoma—are right behind it.

(To clear up any possible confusion about terminology: The FDA and others have chosen to call CAR T-cell therapy a form of gene therapy—and thus deemed it the first gene therapy to be approved in the United States.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

CAR-T cells: A drive to the future of cancer treatment

Conrad Fernandez describes the ethical challenges related to the use of CAR T-cell therapy for cancer patients.

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I am a pediatric oncologist and over the years have looked after hundreds of children with cancer – ranging in age from newborns into their early 20s. About a third of these children have suffered from leukemia. During my career of more than 25 years, I have seen my share of sadness and joy. Roughly one in five of these children have died – most often because of resistance intrinsic to their cancer but sometimes as a consequence of the toxicity of cancer therapy. These toxicities may occur acutely during the treatment (such as severe infections) or more insidiously appear years or decades later. A novel treatment approach that would overcome this resistance while avoiding chemotherapy toxicity would be most welcome.

A few years ago, I sat in a plenary session of the American Society of Hematology annual meeting (the preeminent hematology meeting in the world) where early phase CAR T-cell therapy was discussed. CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cells are genetically reprogrammed immune cells that normally have the job of fighting infection or other foreign intruders into our bodies. CAR T-cells are manufactured to target a subtype of leukemia that is called B-cell leukemia – a type especially common in childhood. I thought to myself to take special note of what I was hearing, as this marked the potential for a paradigm shift in how we approached treatment of leukemia and perhaps other cancers. It is for these relapsed and refractory B-cell leukemia patients that the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) has just recommended approval of CAR T-cell therapy – the first recommendation for approval of its kind.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

CAR-T cells: A drive to the future of cancer treatment

Conrad Fernandez describes the ethical challenges related to the use of CAR T-cell therapy for cancer patients.

__________________________________________

I am a pediatric oncologist and over the years have looked after hundreds of children with cancer – ranging in age from newborns into their early 20s. About a third of these children have suffered from leukemia. During my career of more than 25 years, I have seen my share of sadness and joy. Roughly one in five of these children have died – most often because of resistance intrinsic to their cancer but sometimes as a consequence of the toxicity of cancer therapy. These toxicities may occur acutely during the treatment (such as severe infections) or more insidiously appear years or decades later. A novel treatment approach that would overcome this resistance while avoiding chemotherapy toxicity would be most welcome.

A few years ago, I sat in a plenary session of the American Society of Hematology annual meeting (the preeminent hematology meeting in the world) where early phase CAR T-cell therapy was discussed. CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cells are genetically reprogrammed immune cells that normally have the job of fighting infection or other foreign intruders into our bodies. CAR T-cells are manufactured to target a subtype of leukemia that is called B-cell leukemia – a type especially common in childhood. I thought to myself to take special note of what I was hearing, as this marked the potential for a paradigm shift in how we approached treatment of leukemia and perhaps other cancers. It is for these relapsed and refractory B-cell leukemia patients that the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) has just recommended approval of CAR T-cell therapy – the first recommendation for approval of its kind.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

FDA Approves First CAR-T Cell Therapy for Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Caption: Cancer survivor Emily Whitehead with her dog Lucy.
Credit: Emily Whitehead Foundation

Tremendous progress continues to be made against the Emperor of All Maladies, cancer. One of the most exciting areas of progress involves immunotherapy, a treatment strategy that harnesses the natural ability of the body’s own immune cells to attack and kill tumor cells. A lot of extremely hard work has gone into this research, so I was thrilled to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced today its first approval of a promising type of immunotherapy called CAR-T cell therapy for kids and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—the most common childhood cancer in the U.S.

ALL is a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Its treatment with chemotherapy drugs, developed with NIH support, has transformed ALL’s prognosis in kids from often fatal to largely treatable: about 90 percent of young patients now recover. But for those for whom the treatment fails, the prognosis is grim.

In the spring of 2012, Emily Whitehead of Philipsburg, PA was one such patient. The little girl was deathly ill, and her parents were worried they’d run out of options. That’s when doctors at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, gave Emily and her parents new hope. Carl June and his team had successfully treated three adults with their version of CAR-T cell therapy, which is grounded in initial basic research supported by NIH [1,2]. Moving forward with additional clinical tests, they treated Emily—their first pediatric patient—that April. For a while, it was touch and go, and Emily almost died.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Sickle-Cell Patients See Hope in CRISPR

August 23, 2017

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Hertz Nazaire is a soft-spoken artist who likes to paint in bright colors, with subjects like rainbow palm leaves and dancing women in twirling skirts. But one series of paintings he’s created is darker. Here, deep-red discs contrast with misshapen, bluish-purple ones against a black background. One canvas shows an African face drowning in the red and blue shapes, eyes streaming with tears, mouth agape in pain. The work reflects his lifelong struggle with sickle-cell disease.

Nazaire, a 43-year-old Haitian-American, figures he’s been hospitalized more than 300 times since he was a child. He and other sickle-cell patients will tell you that the worst part of the disease is the debilitating pain. “It’s a horrifying thing to have, because it’s extremely painful. It’s a major fight all the time,” he says.

Roughly 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle-cell disease, most of them African-Americans and Latinos but also people of Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descent. Compared with the average American, they live much shorter lives—about 40 to 60 years.

… Read More

Image via Flickr Attribution Some rights reserved by euthman

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Doctors Plan Bold Test of Gene Therapy on Boys with Muscular Dystrophy

August 17, 2017

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In 1990, a British muscular dystrophy researcher, Kay Davies, described the unusual case of a 61-year-old man who by rights should not have been alive, based on what was known of the disease at that time.

The muscle wasting disease is caused by mutations to the dystrophin gene. Even just one wrong genetic letter can mean early death. Remarkably, the man Davies described was missing 46 percent of the gene. Yet there he was, still walking with the aid of a stick in his seventh decade.

Now that 27-year-old discovery is leading to what could be the best chance to treat—and maybe stop—a serious form of the disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

… Read More

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Charlie Gard Post-Mortem: Could He Have Been Saved?

Charlie Gard would have turned one year old tomorrow.

Two days before the British infant died of a mitochondrial disease on July 28, a short article in MIT Technology Review teased that Shoukhrat Mtalipov and his team at Oregon Health & Science University and colleagues had used CRISPR-Cas9 to replace a mutation in human embryos, a titillating heads-up that didn’t actually name the gene or disease.

Yesterday Nature published the details of what the researchers call gene correction, not editing, because it uses natural DNA repair. I covered the news conference, with a bit of perspective, for Genetic Literacy Project.

Might gene editing enable Charlie’s parents, who might themselves develop mild symptoms as they age, to have another child free of the family’s disease? Could anything have saved the baby?

A TRAGIC CASE

The court hearing testimony on the case between Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the family, published April 11, chronicles the sad story. The hospital had requested discontinuing life support based on the lack of tested treatment.

Charlie was born August 4, 2016, at full term and of a good weight, but by a few weeks of age, his parents noticed that he could no longer lift his head nor support any part of his body. By the October 2 pediatrician visit, Charlie hadn’t gained any weight, despite frequent breastfeeding. After an MRI and EEG, Charlie had a nasogastric tube inserted to introduce high-caloric nutrition.

By October 11, the baby was lethargic, his breathing shallow. So his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, took him to GOSH.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Charlie Gard Post-Mortem: Could He Have Been Saved?

Charlie Gard would have turned one year old tomorrow.

Two days before the British infant died of a mitochondrial disease on July 28, a short article in MIT Technology Review teased that Shoukhrat Mtalipov and his team at Oregon Health & Science University and colleagues had used CRISPR-Cas9 to replace a mutation in human embryos, a titillating heads-up that didn’t actually name the gene or disease.

Yesterday Nature published the details of what the researchers call gene correction, not editing, because it uses natural DNA repair. I covered the news conference, with a bit of perspective, for Genetic Literacy Project.

Might gene editing enable Charlie’s parents, who might themselves develop mild symptoms as they age, to have another child free of the family’s disease? Could anything have saved the baby?

A TRAGIC CASE

The court hearing testimony on the case between Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the family, published April 11, chronicles the sad story. The hospital had requested discontinuing life support based on the lack of tested treatment.

Charlie was born August 4, 2016, at full term and of a good weight, but by a few weeks of age, his parents noticed that he could no longer lift his head nor support any part of his body. By the October 2 pediatrician visit, Charlie hadn’t gained any weight, despite frequent breastfeeding. After an MRI and EEG, Charlie had a nasogastric tube inserted to introduce high-caloric nutrition.

By October 11, the baby was lethargic, his breathing shallow. So his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, took him to GOSH.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

You’ll Want to See This! “First in Human” Debuts August 10

For over 60 years, the NIH Clinical Center—the world’s largest hospital dedicated to clinical research—has been at the forefront of developing treatments for our most deadly and damaging diseases. It’s here at our “House of Hope” in Bethesda, MD, where, among many other medical firsts, chemotherapy was first used to treat cancerous tumors, gene therapy underwent its first human tests, surgeons first successfully replaced the heart’s mitral valve, and the first anti-viral drug for HIV/AIDS met with early success.

Now, in a Discovery Channel documentary called First in Human, millions of people all around the globe will get a chance to see the doctors, nurses, and other staff of NIH’s remarkable research hospital in action. Narrated by Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, the three-part series debuts at 9 p.m.-11 p.m., ET, Thursday, August 10. The second and third segments will air at the same time on August 17 and 24. For a sneak peak, check out the video clip above!

Filmed in the Clinical Center between September 2015 and June 2016, First in Human follows four seriously ill patients—two with cancer and two with rare, inherited diseases—as they take part in clinical trials of experimental therapies. By volunteering for such research with no guarantee that they themselves would benefit, these four brave individuals helped to build the foundation for tomorrow’s breakthroughs. When you consider all of the medical “firsts” made possible by clinical research, it’s clear that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude not only to these patients, but to everyone who participates in clinical studies at the Clinical Center and across the nation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.