Cancer patients inherit brand-new immune systems after undergoing bone marrow transplants. Though this intensive therapy can rid the body of malignancies, it often triggers graft-versus-host disease — a condition in which freshly adopted immune cells mount violent attacks on a person’s tissues and organs, viewing them as foreign.
Other than steroids, which only work about half of the time, there have been few options to treat the disease. GVHD, as the condition is known, is often fatal.
But a new Phase 3 study in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms what many oncologists have known, anecdotally, for years: that ruxolitinib, a chemotherapy drug, can dramatically improve the odds of patients who have had bone marrow transplants — calming their grafted immune system’s attack on the body. The drug was tested in patients who had an acute form of the disease and who didn’t respond to steroids or other therapies.