Local doctors get the green-light for new leukemia treatment

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Local doctors get the green-light for new leukemia treatment. Registered Nurse Ali Gorman reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on August 30, 2017. (WPVI)

FDA Wednesday, gave the green light to a groundbreaking treatment for leukemia.

And two local researchers have been at the forefront of developing it.

The FDA's decision has been 30 years in the making for Doctor Carl June of Penn Medicine, and Doctor Stephan Grupp of Children's Hospital.

"Pure unadulterated joy. We thought this day would never happen," Dr. Carl June of Penn Medicine said.

Their idea was radical - harvest a patient's own T-cells, then genetically modify them, adding a new gene, then put the modified cells back in the body.

The new gene tells the T-cells to target and kill cancer cells that cause acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Clinical trials show it works.

Dr. Stephan Grupp of Children's Hospital said, "About 90 percent of these kids go into remission and stay in remission years later."

The new treatment is harnessed with a drug called Kymriah.

It's now been approved for children and young adults whose cancer doesn't respond to, or comes back after standard treatment.

Emily Whitehead is one of the success stories.

Five-years-ago, conventional chemotherapy stopped working.

She became the first pediatric patient to undergo the experimental CAR T-Cell treatment.

At first, she got very sick, but bounced back weeks later, and has been in remission ever since.

The treatment is only approved for one form of leukemia, but researchers are optimistic it will work against other cancers in the future.
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