05:36pm Tuesday 22 October 2019

Leukaemia ‘wonder drug’ could be used to treat range of blood cancers

Imatinib is used to successfully treat patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), a blood cancer which had a very poor prognosis before its introduction.

Research published online in the journal Nature Medicine suggests that Imatinib could be an effective treatment for anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma which predominantly affects children and young adults.

After positive tests by the team in the laboratory, a 27 year old patient who had failed to respond to all standard treatment was given access to Imatinib. After just 10 days, the patient entered complete clinical remission and remains so 19 months later.

The international collaborative team, partially funded by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, showed that Imatinib works by neutralising the activity of the PDGFR-β molecule, which is found in high levels on the surface of ALCL cells in many patients. This ‘receptor’ molecule plays a key role in aiding the rapid spread of the cancer cells.

PDGFR-β is present in particular in patients whose lymphoma is driven by a cancer gene formed by the fusion of the NPM and ALK genes. The researchers found in the laboratory that by treating lymphoma positive for the NPM-ALK cancer protein, they could significantly extend survival times.

Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research Bennett Fellow Dr Suzanne Turner, who works in the Department of Pathology at Cambridge University, said: “The exact mechanism by which Imatinib controls lymphoma remains to be determined but what is clear is that it holds much promise in the future treatment of these patients.

“The next steps in future clinical trials are to analyse patients for the presence of PDGFR-β on their tumour cells and find out whether these patients should be treated separately at diagnosis with additional Imatinib.”

Imatinib is thought to be effective in other sub-types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well. Three further patients who did not respond to standard treatment for different types of lymphoma that were positive for PDGFR-β had a longer lifespan as a result of access to Imatinib. The researchers think that the drug could be even more effective if used when patients are first diagnosed

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “ALCL has unacceptably high rates of relapse, condemning patients to rounds and rounds of chemotherapy that can have life-long side-effects.  This important research shows that we might already have the drug available to save many patients’ lives.”

For further information, please contact Henry Winter at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Press Office on 020 7269 9019, press mobile 07824 375880, or email: hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk

Notes to editors

The report is published online in the journal Nature Medicine under the title ‘PDGFR blockade is a rational and effective therapy for NPM-ALK–driven lymphomas’. 

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is dedicated to saving the lives of blood cancer patients through the promotion and assistance of research into causes, diagnosis and treatment. We are committed to advancing the interests of patients and increasing public understanding of blood cancers. 

Around 30,000 people of all ages, from children and teenagers to adults are diagnosed with blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma in the UK every year. 

We receive no government funding and rely entirely on voluntary support. In the next five years we need to raise £120 million to continue our lifesaving work. Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from beatingbloodcancers.org.uk or on 020 7405 0101.


University of Cambridge:

The University of Cambridge’s mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.   It admits the very best and brightest students, regardless of background, and offers one of the UK’s most generous bursary schemes.


The University of Cambridge’s reputation for excellence is known internationally and reflects the scholastic achievements of its academics and students, as well as the world-class original research carried out by its staff.  Some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs occurred at the University, including the splitting of the atom, invention of the jet engine and the discoveries of stem cells, plate tectonics, pulsars and the structure of DNA.  From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, the University has nurtured some of history’s greatest minds and has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other UK institution with over 80 laureates.








Henry Winter

Science Press Officer

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research


t: 020 7504 2219

f: 020 7405 3139

m: 07824 375880

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