Carolyn will be here in a few days. Hooray!
Quite a few years ago I bought some shares of stock in Novartis, a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland. I thought I needed some drug company stock to “balance my portfolio”, as my broker is fond of saying. I would have preferred an American company, but I reasoned that the political climate here was inimical to Big Pharma; too many Elizabeths and Bernies breathing down their collective neck. The Swiss never let anything stand between them and a healthy profit. But, whatever. I wish I had bought a whole lot more.
That by way of providing a somewhat sour introduction to an important cancer story. We have discussed “immunotherapy” before, many times (29, to be exact). Well, it appears that the FDA is on the verge of approving an immunotherapy approach to wrestling with a type of leukemia, “B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia” to give the malevolent sucker its full name. In this disease the culprit is cancerous B cells. B cells are part of the immune system. The immunological approach involves extracting millions of the patient’s own T cells (another part of the immune system), modify their genetics to teach them that cancerous B cells are “the enemy”, then infusing them back into the patient where, in the pleasing phrase of one Dr. Carl June, they behave like “serial killers”, offing hundreds of thousands of errant B cells. This treatment is not without side effects and is far from infallible – but it seems to beat alternative treatments (chemo; bone marrow transplants) in most respects.
This type of immunotherapeutic approach has been diddled with using lab animals for at least a decade. It gives promise of value defending against other cancers as well: multiple myeloma and aggressive brain tumors are mentioned.
Oh, by the way: the treatment is estimated to cost $300,000. That’s a lot of Swiss francs, but clearly beats the alternative.
Here is the article. Read it, dammit!