In 2013, Robert Oblak was fighting a recurrence of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, when he agreed to become part of a study trial. Within a year of taking the Melbourne-developed drug, Venetoclax, his cancer went into remission. He said of the drug, “It causes no side-effects. Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
Venetoclax targets specific cancer-causing biological factors like cell-structure mutations. Professor John Seymour helped oversee the trial Oblak took part in, and described how the drug works. “Cells, when they are born, are destined to die and cancer cells and particularly leukaemia cells delay that death by using a protein called BCL2 that stops the normal time of death. Venetoclax works by specifically blocking the action of that BCL2 and allows the cells to die in the way that they were destined to.” Although some users experinced a negative reaction to the drug, nearly four out of five patients had a positive result, and one in five patients experienced a complete remission.
Venetoclax is part of new research that is making waves in the fight against cancer cells, by using the body’s own immune system to aid in the fight called, immunotherapy. The team behind Venetoclax just recently won the prestigious Eureka Prize for Innovation in Medical Research.
Although not available in Australia, the drug has been receiving fast-track approval for use in the UNited States and the European Union.