A new chemotherapy drug for chronic lymphocytic leukemia has been given approval by the FDA. CLL is the most common form of leukemia in adults and this drug has done spectacularly well in clinical trials. It's the kind of drug experts called "target therapy" and it's the newest one in the field of precision medicine for cancer. It targets a specific protein in cancer cells, the BCL 2 protein.
It's been described as "melting away" cancer cells. The BCL2 protein is what drives CLL to spread, allowing the cells to replicate at a breakneck speed. The drug stops this ability, rendering the cancer cells inactive. When the cells can no longer divide, apoptosis-cell death-occurs. The drug is also thought to produce less severe side effects than other chemo drugs. Researchers expect it to cause mild to moderate nausea, but say it will not cause hair loss and it will not result in neuropathy in the extremities as many other cancer drugs do. 80% of patients in the clinical trials had good results. The remainder of patients had more significant side effects and had to stop the drug, experienced a rare complication of renal failure or had more advanced stages of the disease.