One of the grotesque ironies of cancer research is that, for all the quests humans embark on for eternal life, cancer comes by immortality naturally. Bcl-2 is a protein that regulates cell death and in cancer cells, specifically leukemias, that protein is eternally delayed. So while cells around it die, cancer enjoys a lengthy lifespan that eventually ends a human one. A new treatment, though, revokes this ‘immortality’ and defeats cancer simply by letting it die.
Venetoclax is part of a class of drugs and procedures called immunotherapy, and it uses the body’s own immune system to kill off cancer cells. The drug essentially restores proper Bcl-2 function to leukemia cells, and the body takes care of the rest. While Venetoclax doesn’t have a perfect success rate, trials so far have seen an extremely high 80% success rate, and the best part for many patients is that there aren’t any noticeable side effects. As far as your body is concerned, eating away the cancer is just part of its job. An Australian man with a rare leukemia compared it to taking an over-the-counter painkiller. That’s excellent news, considering how terrible chemotherapy is for the body.
The only downside, from a cancer perspective, is that Venetoclax’s effectiveness on other cancers remains untested, although trials are ongoing. Still, it shows just how powerful immunotherapy can be and opens the door to a world where cancer is a thing of the past.