An experimental therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that uses a patient’s own T cells (an approach known as CTL019) may cure some patients and prolong survival in others, researchers report. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

The current study is a follow-up of 14 patients given the CTL019 treatment in 2010. Eight of the 14 patients responded to the treatment.

Four achieved a complete remission, including one patient who died 21 months after the therapy due to an infection that occurred after removal of skin cancer on his leg. The three other patients remained alive at the time of this analysis with no evidence of leukemia at 28, 52, and 53 months.

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Four patients had a partial response to the therapy, with responses lasting an average of seven months. During follow-up, two of these patients died of disease progression — one at 10 and one at 27 months after receiving CTL019.

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Another study participant died after suffering a pulmonary embolism six months after treatment. The fourth patient had disease progression 13 months after therapy, but remained alive on other therapies at 36 months after the study treatment. Six patients didn’t respond to the therapy, and their cancer progressed within one to nine months.

“All responding patients developed B cell aplasia and experienced cytokine release syndrome, coincident with T cell proliferation,” the authors write. “Minimal residual disease was not detectable in patients who achieved complete remission, suggesting that disease eradication may be possible in some patients with advanced CLL.”

The study was supported in part by a grant from Novartis, which is developing CTL019.


  1. Porter DL, Hwang W, Frey NV, et al. Chimeric antigen receptor T cells persist and induce sustained remissions in relapsed refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Science Translational Medicine. 2015. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac5415.