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An Australian-pioneered drug gives leukaemia patients hope

Photo: Aussie drug gives leukaemia patients hope
Patients with blood cancers have new hope after two trials found a drug pioneered in Australia showed dramatic life saving benefits.

Research shows when Venetoclax - a drug developed from scientific discoveries made in Melbourne - is combined with standard immunotherapy drugs, it can save more than twice as many patients as chemotherapy.

In one international study led by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, almost 85 per cent of 389 chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients were cancer-free two years after beginning treatment.

This compared with just 36 per cent on standard immune-chemotherapy.

The second study by the Royal Melbourne Hospital found 71 per cent of patients went on to show no detectable cancer when treated with the combination of Venetoclax and immunotherapy drug ibrutinib.
Seventy-eight per cent of those patients remained cancer free for at least 15 months.

Lead researcher Professor John Seymour believes the Venetoclax and immunotherapy combination could be used globally to replace chemotherapy for patients with relapsed leukaemia.

"Venetoclax combination is profoundly superior to chemotherapy and should replace chemotherapy," Prof Seymour told ABC Radio.

"In this particular setting, the (Venetoclax) oral tablet ... was far better tolerated and few severe side effects compared to chemotherapy."

'(It provided) better quality of life, enabling patients to do the things they wish to be doing in normal life."

Venetoclax, developed based on a discovery by Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, inhibits a protein that makes cancer cells in leukaemia patients resistant to other therapies.

The institute sold partial rights to the drug to Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board in July.

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy will meet with researchers to talk through the findings on Thursday.

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