Wednesday's Warrior: Local doctors working on a new drug to treat leukemia patients

HOUSTON – Local doctors are working on a new drug to treat patients with leukemia.

Doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center are working on a drug to treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia, which they say is one of the most aggressive types of leukemia.

"It is one of the most difficult types of leukemia to treat," said Dr. Marina Konopleva, a researcher in the center's  Department of Leukemia. "It is one of the most aggressive types of leukemia." 

Konopleva is taking it on and testing a new drug.

"This is a totally new type of agent that is thought to starve leukemia cells," Konopleva said.

The drug, IACS-10759, works by cutting off the cancer's oxygen supply and killing it.

It was developed by MD Anderson's Institute for Applied Cancer Science. 

Konopleva is using a $3.5 million grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to conduct a clinical trial.

"We're learning a lot about how the drug works and what potential side effects the patient may encounter," Konopleva said.

Konopleva said she's hoping for a positive outcome.

"Complete remissions or at least disease stabilization, and improvement of quality of life," Konopleva said.

A hefty goal for a cancer that kills 90 percent of victims 65 and older.

Her partner, Dr. Naval Daver, is excited about what's happening with AML research in general

"I think this year is probably the turning point for AML. I mean it is the turning point. I don't think anybody can argue with that," Naval Daver, M.D. said.

It's been four decades with no significant advancements. Until now.

"For 40 years, no drugs. And then in one year we potentially have five new FDA-approved drugs, Daver said. "That's the way it goes, yeah."

Their drug isn't one of the five. It's still a long way from approval. But for this team, it's part of an exploding trend in AML research that they believe will save thousands of lives in years to come.

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