Scientists are working on a new treatment to help fight cancers and other deadly diseases by harnessing the untapped potential of the red blood cells. The treatment nicknamed “superblood” is under research by three companies following a similar approach. For this treatment, researchers collect red blood cells from patients. They then modify it to contain anti-cancer or other medications within them and inject back into the patients. This helps to improve the effectiveness of the medicines at the same time reducing the harmful side effects.
Some experts not involved in the research are saying that this approach has merit. But, are cautioning that it is too early to predict the treatment’s success as it is in the early stages of research. Caius Radu, MD, professor of medical and molecular pharmacology at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center opines that the Superblood treatment if proved to be safe and effective can have broad applications.
In the recently concluded American Association for Cancer Research conference, researchers presented a study stating that L-asparaginase, an enzyme which is a part of the multi-drug cancer treatment was added to red blood cells. They were then injected into 13 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemis (ALL), a type of blood cancer. The patients were found to be safe. Hence more studies are being planned similarly.
Alison Walker, MD, associate professor of hematology at the Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center presented the findings at the conference. She felt L-asparaginase to be a very good treatment for ALL. She opines that the toxicity from the chemo itself is of significance as it can delay any further chemo. As the chemo is present within the red blood cell, there is less exposure and this should give rise to less toxicity.
Erytech, a pharma based in Lyon, France is the architect behind the treatment and also have funded the study. EryDel which is an Italian company is working on EryDex, a superblood treatment for a rare genetic disease ataxia telangiectasia (AT). This disease appears in the childhood and can cause neurological issues such as problems with the immune system and motor skills, balance issues and respiratory infections. Many patients suffering from AT may die in their 20s. They may lose the ability to talk, walk and write normally.
According to Luca Benatti, Ph.D., EryDel’s CEO, about 200 people received this treatment. As part of the treatment, EryDex loads the red blood cells with a steroid drug. The patients receive it via an IV once a month. It is a slow-release system and it can prevent the typical side effects due to steroid as found by a research. The steroid side effects typically range from high blood sugar, thinning of bones, high blood pressure, and cataracts.
As per a research, the treatment can delay the symptoms as well as the course of the disease. Monthly infusions for about 6 months were given to 18 patients in one study. They could score better on the scale used to assess motor skills and most other aspects of daily living. The company is waiting for its final study to complete before approaching FDA for approval and the results of this study will be out in the second half of 2019.
FDA has granted orphan drug status for the treatment which means the drug is designed to treat rare conditions or will not be a profitable one to the drug manufacturer. The company is looking to use the treatment against other diseases such as cancer apart from AT.
Another company by the name Rubius Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA, is also researching on superblood treatment for cancers, immune system disorders, and rare diseases. So far, it has managed to raise $220 million for financing the research.
Superblood Advantages And Its Comparison With Other Therapies
As per experts, the superblood approach is less toxic and also the drugs can directly target the tumors. As the drugs stay longer in the body, superblood treatment can be more effective in the long run.
CAR T-cell therapy is another advanced treatment on which the new technology builds on. This therapy utilizes the power of the body’s T cells which are the workhorses of the immune system for their ability to find and kill the diseased cells.
For the CAR T-cell therapy, blood is taken from the patient. T cells are separated from it and are genetically engineered to induce tumor-fighting ability in them. They then are reintroduced into the patient via an IV.
According to experts, superblood has more advantages than CAR T. Comparatively, superblood treatment is easier to implement, long lasting and can be made more quickly.
Though the superblood concept is interesting, it still requires further testing to prove to have a substantial impact on the diseases it can treat. The future of this new approach depends on the costs as much as on how effective and superior the treatment can be.