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Health Highlights: April 1, 2019

Last Updated: April 01, 2019.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Study Provides New Hope for Patients With Rare Cancers

A new study suggests that there's a way to predict which patients with rare cancers will benefit from a drug combination that boosts the immune system.

Many people with rare cancers lack good treatments, and drug companies don't develop any because of small potential sales, the Associated Press reported.

This U.S. National Cancer Institute-funded study pools these patients to give them strength in numbers and new options.

"For the patients that it works for, it's phenomenal, it's life-changing ... but it's not for everybody," said study co-leader, Dr. Sandip Patel of the University of California, San Diego's Moores Cancer Center, the AP reported.

Since it started in 2017, the study has enrolled more than 550 patients in the U.S. and Canada. Currently, it's testing a combo of two immunotherapy drugs, Opdivo and Yervoy in people grouped according to their tumor type.

The research was presented Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Atlanta.

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China to Regulate All Fentanyl-Related Drugs

All fentanyl-related drugs will be regulated as a class of controlled substances, China announced Monday.

The change has long been urged by U.S. officials as a way to slow the supply of deadly opioids from China, the Associated Press reported.

China's new regulations take effect May 1.

American officials have said that China is the main source of synthetic opioids that arrive in the United States directly by mail or via Mexico, but China denies that claim, the AP reported.

China already had controls on 25 variants of fentanyl, as well as two precursors used to make the drug. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration data show that when China bans a variant of fentanyl, seizures of that analog in the United States decline.

"We firmly believe that listing the entire class of fentanyl substances will completely block the loopholes that enable law breakers to evade punishment by simply modifying one or several atoms, functional groups or other groups," Liu Yuejin, vice commissioner of China's National Narcotics Control Commission, told the AP.

"It will effectively prevent the massive abuse of fentanyl substances and illegal drug trafficking and smuggling activities, and contribute to global drug control...," Liu added.

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Blood Cancers Treatment Shows Promise Against Solid Tumors

An immune system-boosting treatment used to fight blood cancers shows early promise in treating some solid tumors, researchers report.

In CAR-T therapy, some of a patient's own cells are genetically modified to to help them recognize and attack cancer. CAR-T was approved in 2017 for some leukemias and lymphomas, the Associated Press reported.

Now, the effectiveness of CAR-T in treating solid tumors was assessed in 19 patients with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs, and two patients with lung and breast cancer that had spread to the chest lining.

After CAR-T, one patient was able to have surgery and radiation, and is doing well 20 months later with no further treatment. Fifteen other patients were well enough to start taking a drug that uses a different approach to bolster the immune system, the AP reported.

Results were available for 11 of the 15 patients. Two had signs of cancer disappear for about a year, but one later relapsed. Tumors shrank in six patients, but cancer returned in three.

Details on the cases were presented Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Atlanta.


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