CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand leukemia and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. Although leukemia is among the most common childhood cancers, it most often occurs in older adults and is slightly more common in men than women. In 2016 there were an estimated 60,000 new cases with around 24,000 people dying of the disease.
The stem cells in the bone marrow normally form all cells of the blood system, including the red blood cells, platelets, and immune cells. In people with leukemia, the bone marrow stem cells create abnormal immune cells that aren’t able to carry out their normal job of fighting infection.
Eventually, these abnormal cells crowd out the normal blood cells. Without a sufficient population of working blood cells, people with leukemia develop symptoms such as anemia, bleeding and infections.
Recent research has shown that in addition to these abnormal white cells, leukemia patients also have a small population of cells called leukemia stem cells. Scientists suspect that these cells evade treatments that kill leukemia cells and then later go on to cause a relapse. The goal of stem cell research for leukemia is to find ways of destroying these leukemia stem cells.
Catriona Jamieson of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center discusses a clinical trial for a pre-leukemia condition that was based in part on CIRM funding
Clinical Stage Programs
University of California, San Diego
A team at UC San Diego is testing the safety of a monoclonal antibody called cirmtuzumab that targets cancer stem cells in a Phase 1 clinical trial. It’s named after CIRM because we helped fund the research that led to its development. Cirmtuzumab is designed to attach to a protein, called ROR1, that is found on the surface of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells but is rarely found on healthy cells. The team hopes cirmtuzumab will target the cancer cells, blocking their ability to grow and/or survive.
The same UCSD team is also testing cirmtuzumab in combination with an approved cancer fighting drug call Ibrutinib, to target cancer stem cells in a separate Phase 1 trial. The hope is that combining Cirmtuzumab with Ibrutinib will improve cancer remission and long-term cancer control in patients.