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New drug hits leukemia early

Molecular approach shows promise against deadly blood cancer

A new drug can halt budding leukemia in mice by binding to a key protein on the surface of blood cells predisposed to becoming cancerous, researchers report in the July 2 Cell Stem Cell.

This and other studies have paved the way for preliminary testing of a version of the drug for people with acute myeloid leukemia, a particularly lethal form of the blood cancer. Fewer than one-third of patients diagnosed with this leukemia survive for five years.

The promising drug is an antibody that blocks a receptor called CD123 found on the surface of stem cells at risk of developing into leukemia cells, called leukemia stem cells. Normal blood stem cells serve as the templates for blood cells and various immune cells, but aberrant versions of these stem cells fail to develop properly and instead result in leukemia.

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