Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is one of the most common types of adult leukemia in Western countries, affecting about 3-4,000 people in Hungary. In recent years, many new drugs have been introduced to treat the disease, which have brought about significant improvements in patient survival, but in some cases, despite the initial positive responses, tumor cells become resistant, even though new therapies are being applied to the patients.
The MTA-SE Momentum Molecular Onco-Hematology Research Group, led by Csaba Bödör, has launched a major research program involving several foreign partner institutions, thanks to the excellent program of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Within the program, several clinically relevant observations have been made about CLL.
The objective of the Lendület (Momentum) Program is a dynamic renewal of the research teams of the Academy and participating universities via attracting outstanding young researchers back to Hungary. The impact and success of this application model is highly acclaimed and recognized even by the international scientific community.
The research of the group focuses on a new active ingredient called ibrutinib, a small-molecule drug that binds permanently to a protein, Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK), which is important in B cells. It is used to treat B cell cancers, such as CLL. The clinical introduction of ibrutinib has led to a breakthrough in the treatment of high-risk CLL patients.
CLL cells. (photo: Csaba Bödör/MTA)
Recent research has investigated changes in leukemic stem cells and other immune cells following ibrutinib treatment and identified a specific “molecular program” in leukemic cells. These complex molecular changes have been found to be activated by targeted treatment, and although they show a uniform pattern in all patients, some phases occur within different lengths of time in different patients. This may be of practical importance in identifying patients who respond faster and slower to treatment, which can help optimize targeted therapeutic strategies and even set up new combination therapies.
According to the researchers, the method they have developed, based on state-of-the-art methods, could be used in the future to detect molecular changes in a wide variety of tumors as a result of targeted therapies.