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Dr Rishi Investigates New Cancer Drug in the Fight Against Infant Leukaemia

Dr Rishi Sury Kotecha is one of the scientists conducting child cancer research at the Children’s Leukaemia & Cancer Research Foundation (Inc.) Lab at the Telethon Kids Institute. His expertise lies in preclinical and clinical leukaemia research and he is currently conducting studies into a key new drug called Blinatumomab. In the study, he will be examining whether the drug, Blinatumomab, can be safely added to the standard chemotherapy used to treat infants under 12 months of age with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Blinatumomab is a form of immunotherapy and binds to both the leukaemia cells and T-cells, which are important in our body’s natural defence against infections, facilitating destruction of the leukaemia cells by the T-cells. Dr Rishi believes Blinatumomab is going to be a crucial drug in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in infants.

Until now, studies have shown that Blinatumomab is safe to use in older children and adults. Dr Rishi’s research is an early phase trial, which aims to see whether using Blinatumomab is safe and feasible for treating infants under 12 months of age.

Most babies with pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukaemia have a very poor survival rate due to a genetic abnormality, which is called a MLL rearrangement. Only 40 percent of babies with this abnormality survive beyond five years. For those under three months of age, there is only 16 percent survival. This highlights the desperate need for better therapies to improve their outcome. It is hoped that Blinatumomab will not only improve the outcome of these infants, but also enable reduction of conventional chemotherapy which is highly toxic to their fragile bodies.

When asked why Dr Rishi chose to specialise in paediatric haematology/oncology, he is very positive “I chose this specialty for the successes that have come from such research. When I receive emails and photos from a child I’ve treated telling me about their lives, such as starting university and having families of their own, I see the impact that research has made on their outcome and it makes it all worthwhile.”

The CLCRF is proud to fund cutting-edge research such as Dr Rishi’s that leads to better outcomes for children with leukaemia.