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Researchers unveiled the latest developments this week on cancer treatments and diagnostics.
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  • The latest research and development on cancer treatments and diagnostics was presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
  • One of the main topics continues to be chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapy (CAR T), which researchers say is providing people with better cancer treatment options.
  • Researchers also presented studies on experimental therapies to help deal with the sometimes toxic side effects of CAR T treatments.
  • Studies were also unveiled on liquid biopsies, which are blood tests that advocates say can detect cancer and may someday replace more invasive diagnostic procedures.

More than 5,000 research abstracts explaining the latest advances in cancers such as lymphomas, leukemia, and myelomas were presented this week at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting.

After 2 years as a remote event because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASH conference was a live/remote hybrid this year in Atlanta, Georgia.

Healthline is taking a look at some of the most interesting and potentially game-changing news from this year’s conference.

Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapy, better known as CAR T, was once again the talk of the ASH meeting.

CAR T treatments, which leverage the body’s immune system (T cells) to fight cancer, are now primed to replace older, standard-of-care treatments such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplants for multiple blood cancers.

In studies submitted to ASH, Gilead’s CAR T Yescarta and Bristol Myers Squibb’s CAR T Breyanzi both outperformed chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in second-line diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

While CAR T treatments are providing people with long remission periods and even cures in some cases, the therapies still come with potentially serious side effects such as cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and immune effector cell-associated neurotoxicity (ICANS).

CRS is an inflammatory response that can present as a flu-like illness, but more severe responses (stage III, IV, and V) can lead to life threatening pulmonary, cardiovascular, and renal health concerns.

Nicolas Gazeau, a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center whose hospital presented numerous studies at this year’s ASH, is one of many scientists who are working to mitigate CAR T toxicity.

“Both CRS and neurotoxicity are becoming better understood, and the use of corticosteroid or Actemra, a monoclonal antibody targeting IL-6, often solves the complication,” Gazeau told Healthline. “The drug stops the action of IL1, which is a pro-inflammatory cytokine involved in CRS and ICANS.”

By analyzing the response to this treatment, Gazeau said it showed that an early administration of a high dose of Actemra, an immunosuppressive drug, can be associated with rapid improvement of CRS or ICANS.

A study submitted to ASH from Viracta Therapeutics introduced the possibility of combining CAR T with vecabrutinib, a BTK/ITK inhibitor drug, to reduce toxicity.

“The drug works by increasing T-cell proliferation and functionality and decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokine production to potentially reduce cytokine release syndrome (CRS).” Dr. Ivor Royston, the president and CEO of Viracta, told Healthline.

“Vecabrutinib could represent a novel strategy using a noncovalent BTK/ITK inhibitor to increase the efficacy and safety of CAR T-cell therapy,” he said.

One of the most promising technologies at ASH this year came from liquid biopsy companies.

A growing legion of scientists say liquid biopsies have the potential to provide safer, easier, and earlier cancer detection.

They note that blood tests may, in some situations, eventually replace tissue biopsies and more invasive tests such as colorectal exams and mammograms.

After years of research, blood tests can show if a person has cancer, identify the type of cancer, recognize a recurrence, and in some cases even reveal the stage and location of the cancer.

The technology is moving forward in solid tumors, as well as making inroads in lymphomas and other blood cancers.

The National Cancer Institute, in collaboration with Foresight Diagnostics, announced results at the ASH conference of a phase 2 clinical trial of the lymphoma drug Calquence for newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

The clinical trial included Foresight’s circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) detection and minimum residual disease monitoring assay known as Phased variant Enrichment and Detection Sequencing (PhasED-Seq).

The trial found that changes in minimal residual disease levels may help predict the response to the treatment in as few as 7 days. In some cases, it can gauge clinical response prior to CT scans.

Detection of ctDNA levels with the company’s testing technology was correlated with CT imaging and rapidly detected changes in tumor burden in lymphoma patients treated with the drug.

Dr. David Kurtz, an oncologist at Stanford Medicine in California and co-founder of Foresight Diagnostics, told Healthline that the company’s technology will help clinicians provide a better, more individualized approach to managing lymphoma in people.

He said the future for liquid biopsies is bright.

“In 10 years, liquid biopsies will not only be integrated into the cancer patient experience, it will be an integral part, from diagnosis to selecting therapies to disease monitoring,” Kurtz said. “It will be part of every phase of the experience, including recurrence.”

Dr. Maher Albitar, the CEO of Genomic Testing Cooperative, a molecular diagnostic company based on the cooperative business model in Irvine, California, presented several studies at this year’s ASH meeting.

One study from Albitar and his colleagues looked at the viability of a liquid biopsy to monitor residual cancer after a stem cell transplant.

Researchers said the study showed that monitoring residual disease after a stem cell transplant using GTC’s liquid biopsy approach is “a reliable approach and may replace the need of bone marrow biopsy.”

Albitar told Healthline that liquid biopsy technology is a “game-changer in medicine.”

One of his goals is to reach out to underserved populations to help reduce disparity in healthcare services.

“We’re committed to doing this testing for people who do not have the means,” he said.