Leukemia cure? New approach to kill cancer

DENVER – Acute myeloid leukemia, also known as AML, is an aggressive cancer that attacks the bone marrow. 

Around 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with AML each year. 

It's the most common type of leukemia in older adults but continues to have the lowest survival rates. 

But now, a new drug combination is stopping it in its tracks. 

Just hours after arriving at a hospital, David Cade was given the news. 

"(The doctor) said, 'You've got two weeks to two months to live," Cade said.

Diagnosed with AML, doctors said at 71-years-old, David wouldn't survive traditional high-intensive chemotherapy. 

"I basically told my kids good bye, my grandkids good bye," Cade said.

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Dr. Dan Pollyea, clinical director of leukemia services, at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Anschutz Medical Campus, did have one option. An FDA-approved clinical trial testing a low-dose chemo combined with the pill venetoclax, a drug that targets leukemia stem cells. 

"We've never seen a drug work like this, to target any type of cancer cell, let alone a stem cell," Pollyea said.

The drug kills a protein called BCL2, which feeds the leukemia stem cells. When the protein dies, so does the stem cell. 

"This is a completely new way to kill a cancer," Pollyea said.  

Before venetoclax, only a minority of older patients would respond to their therapies. With this new treatment, over 70 percent achieve a remission.

"That's the dream of a lifetime," Pollyea said.  

David received the treatment and eight days later his doctor told him, "It's not in your body."

And more than a year, there's no trace of leukemia. 

"I'm so blessed, I've been blessed all my life, but this is truly a blessing," Cade said. 

The University of Colorado Cancer Hematology teams believe this new approach to killing cancer could destroy other tumor types including breast, pancreatic and colon. 

There are two clinical trials enrolling patients right now, including the very first one for younger AML patients. For more information call 720-848-6400 or click here for more information.