By Neil Gallagher, MD PhD, Sr VP and Global Program Head TAG/LDE225, Novartis Oncology
Fifteen years ago, newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients had a one in three chance of surviving five years. However, this prognosis has improved drastically because of treatment breakthroughs over the last two decades. Today, the disease has transformed from a fatal leukemia to a chronic condition in many cases, specifically in cases of Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) CML. Ph+ CML is a rare blood cancer caused by a genetic abnormality that produces an abnormal chromosome in bone marrow stem cells resulting in uncontrolled growth of white blood cells that crowd out healthy blood cells.
Novartis Oncology is proud to be a leader in this field. Our theme for this year’s American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting is “Hungry for Science” because we’re passionate about research that improves patient outcomes. In CML, this passion is especially strong. We’re conducting clinical trials evaluating the potential for some eligible Ph+ CML patients to live without drug therapy, among other exciting areas of research in this space. At ASH this year, we are investigating a new targeted therapy, as well as digital polymerase chain reaction (dPCR) testing to quantify CML cells in the blood.
While CML is considered a treatable cancer, when it progresses, the probability of treatment failure rises due to resistance. This can potentially be overcome with new treatments that target mutated cells in different ways. At Novartis, we’re conducting studies on new therapies which may be viable choices in the future for CML patients in need of additional options.
In terms of testing in CML, PCR tests are used to detect very low levels of genetic material in the blood, including the BCR-ABL gene found in most Ph+ CML patients. Digital PCR is a refinement of the conventional PCR test used to detect and quantify levels of CML cells in the blood, to ultimately help physicians evaluate a patient’s progress on a particular treatment. For this reason, dPCR is a more precise method of testing which allows for reliable collection and sensitive measurement of genetic material, and it’s an exciting area we’re exploring.
Novartis Oncology remains dedicated to improving the state of CML and we’re pleased to present data at ASH to help navigate the future of CML. Follow our live updates from the meeting via the @Novartis Twitter handle and look out for our #Hungry4Science hashtag!