Less harmful and lesser known than chemotherapy, blinatumomab stimulates the body’s own defence systems to combat cancer.
Chemotherapy is one of the most widely used cancer treatments, but unfortunately, its side effects are well documented and manifold.
Recent developments, however, have led to an alternative, one that is “kinder” and “gentler” than chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Blinatumomab directly targets cancer cells and stimulates the body’s own defence systems to combat the illness.
Chemotherapy – a widely used cancer treatment
Chemotherapy, as the name suggests, is a medical treatment that employs powerful chemicals to combat cancer. The drugs are, in effect, poisons used to limit and hopefully stop the growth of cancer cells.
It is an anti-mitotic treatment, meaning that it inhibits cell division and, therefore, the abnormal cell growth that causes cancer.
However, chemotherapy also causes damage to the body’s naturally mitotic cells, such as those found in the bone marrow, digestive tract, and hair follicles. This is why hair loss, for example, is such a common side effect of the treatment.
Blinatumomab – an alternative to chemotherapy
Unlike chemotherapy, blinatumomab directly targets cancer cells. Administered intravenously, it targets a protein (CD19) in cancer cells, allowing the body’s immune system to recognise the cells. The immune system can then attack and destroy the cancer cells as it does other illnesses.
As blinatumomab focuses directly on cancer cells, the healthy cells harmed by chemotherapy remain unaffected.
Consultant paediatric haematologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Professor Ajay Vora, labelled the treatment “gentler” and “kinder” than other cancer treatments.
The treatment can also be administered on the go, coming in a small bag with a battery-operated pump that can be carried in a backpack. This makes for less frequent hospital visits and allows patients to carry on with their normal lives.
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Blinatumomab in action – saving lives
Blinatumomab is already licensed for adults, with hopes that it will be universally available soon.
BBC News reported the success of blinatumomab treatment on an 11-year-old boy named Arthur, one of the first to receive the treatment at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Arthur initially underwent chemotherapy, which left him weak and failed to clear his cancer. Arthur then received blinatumomab, and his mother, Sandrine, recounted to BBC News that this “little bit of sunshine” allowed him to enjoy life during treatment.
Sandrine also told BBC News that they learned of the treatment’s efficacy at the turn of the year – “there was no residual cancer”.
A similar treatment – chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T) – is also available. However, CAR-T is more expensive and more time-consuming than blinatumomab. For now, blinatumomab provides hope for successful and comfortable cancer treatment in the future.
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