leukemia treatment

Researchers at Newcastle University in England have recently discovered that an approved breast cancer drug could be used as a leukemia treatment.

Every year, approximately 2,500 people die as a result of acute myeloid leukemia in the United Kingdom and around 3,100 new cases of the disease are identified each year. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. It is not a singular disease, but a group of leukemias that develop in cells within the bone marrow called myeloid cells. These myeloid cells are red blood cells, platelets and all white blood cells except lymphocytes. A recent study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University in England uncovered that a drug, called palbociclib, which is currently being used to treat breast cancer is effective for leukemia treatment. In addition to this, palbociclib has side-effects which are much less toxic than current chemotherapeutic agents which provide it with a great advantage.

This study was carried out on cell lines in the laboratory and within mice, and the results were published in Cancer Cell. The results from this study consistently demonstrated that palbociclib significantly decreased the leukemic load, delayed the progression of AML, and increased the median survival from 29 days to 59 days. Thus, this research will hopefully help to increase survival rates for AML patients in the future.

Drug inhibits factors that drive cancer growth in leukemia

Palbociclib, is a tablet which is used to prevent tumour growth and the spread of breast cancer in terminally ill patients for up to two years. The drug acts by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (CDK4) and CDK6, which are both crucial for driving the cells onto DNA replication, leading to cancer.

During this recent study, researchers identified Cyclin D2 (CCDN2) as an important transmitter for a protein that drives leukemic propagation. Around 10-15% of all AML have been discovered to have CCDN2 mutations. The exciting discovery from this study is that leukemic cells expressing the CCDN2 mutation remain sensitive to CDK4/6 inhibitors such as palbocicloib.

Future research work is needed to identify other drugs that can be used with CDK4/6 inhibitors, such as palbociclib, to produce synergistic activity, which will provide an even better treatment without the development of resistance and long-term side effects.

Written by Jade Marie Evans, MPharm, Medical Writer


  1. Martinez-soria, N et al. 2018. The Oncogenic Transcription Factor RUNX1/ETO Corrupts Cell Cycle Regulation to Drive Leukemic Transformation.[Online]. [22 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30300583
  2. EurekAlert . 2018. Breast cancer drug could be used to treat life-threatening leukaemia. [Online]. [22 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-10/nu-bcd100818.php
  3. Leukemiafoundation . 2018. Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). [Online]. [22 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.leukaemia.org.au/disease-information/leukaemias/acute-myeloid-leukaemia/
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