Drug against aggressive leukemia gets approval for Europe
2015-12-14 / The drug Blincyto (Blinatumomab) has now been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Blinatumomab is used to treat patients with a very aggressive form of blood cancer, and is the result of work carried out at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) over ten years ago. Start-up company Micromet owned the intellectual property rights, and when it was acquired these were transferred to Amgen, which now markets Blincyto in the United States following the drug’s approval by the FDA. Prof. Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director at MDC, says: “The MDC’s basic research has borne fruit. The path to drug approval is often a long and difficult one, but the example set by Blinatumomab and other promising MDC projects show that we are on the right track.”
Blincyto is used to treat B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (full name: Philadelphia chromosome-negative precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia or pre-B-cell ALL). In the U.S., Blincyto was granted breakthrough therapy designation for treating this specific type of leukemia. Patients suffering from the disease usually have a prognosis of only a few months’ survival time. The drug signifies new hope for these patients. It will be used in situations where conventional treatment will no longer lead to recovery.
In patients with B-cell ALL, the bone marrow produces too many B-cell lymphoblasts – immature white blood cells. Rather than maturing into functional cells, these lymphoblasts rapidly reproduce, suppressing normal blood formation. The drug Blinatumomab “enlists” the body’s own T-cells to target and destroy the cancerous cells. Crucial groundwork for the development of the drug was carried out by MDC researcher Ralf Bargou, initially within Prof. Bernd Dörken’s working group and then in Bargou’s own group. Bargou is currently a professor at the University Hospital of Würzburg.