Local Hospitals Develop Anti-Viral Drug For Stem Cell Transplant Patients

Researchers have developed a new medication that can help stem cell transplant patients survive.

Cells image via shutterstock

Cells image via shutterstock

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently announced that a newly developed drug can prevent a common and potentially deadly virus contracted by stem cell transplant patients.

paper published by the New England Journal of Medicine which tracked the progress of a clinical trial, revealed that patients who received a transplant of blood-making stem cells from donors were less likely to contract cytomegalovirus (CMV) if they were treated with this drug, called CMX001.

CMV is a herpes-like disease commonly seen in transplant patients that can lead to pneumonia, digestive tract issues, and ulcers. The majority of Americans will contract CMV in their lifetime, but for most people it is contained and controlled by the immune system and presents with no symptoms. In transplant patients, however, who have had bone marrow from a donor put into their bodies, dormant CMV in the blood may come to life. And because transplant patients have weakened immune systems, CMV can be severe and even deadly for them.

Current treatments for CMV often do more harm than good; they keep the CMV virus at bay but can also cause kidney dysfunction and prohibit the patient’s blood from producing more red blood cells.

Dr. Francisco Marty, of the Dana-Farber Institute’s Hematologic Oncology department and lead author of the paper said in a press release:

“With current agents, between 3 and 5 percent of [donor] transplant patients develop CMV disease within six months of transplantation, and a small number of them may die of it. There clearly is a need for better treatments with fewer adverse effects. This clinical trial examined whether the disease can be prevented, rather than waiting for blood tests to show that treatment is needed.”

The study involved 230 stem cell transplant patients at 27 treatment centers nationwide. The patients were either given the drug CMX001 or a placebo for nine to 11 weeks after the transplant took place. Only 10 percent of patients who took CMX001 contracted some form of CMV while over 35 percent of patients on the placebo contracted it, showing that CMX001 can prevent the onset of the disease.

Not only will this new drug help stem cell transplant patients through the difficult post-transplant period, but CMX001 could also potentially be used as a preventative measure for other viruses as well, according to Dr. Marty. He said in a press release:

“Because CMX001 is known to be active against other herpes viruses and against adenoviruses that sometimes affect transplant patients, it may be useful as a preventive or treatment agent for those infections as well.”