Researchers believe they have made a major breakthrough in cancer treatment, after a small clinical trial showed that engineered T-cells induced complete remission in 94% of terminally ill patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

The potentially revolutionary treatment, widely being dubbed as a ‘living drug’, is a form of immunotherapy that involves extracting a patient's own T-cells, engineering them to fight cancer, and then re-introducing them into the body.

Response rates of 80% have been seen in trials with other blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, while more than half achieved complete remission, researchers reportedly said at the American Association for the Advancement for Science conference, according to media reports.

"This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients," lead researcher Stanley Riddell, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, told delegates, according to The Guardian.

"In the laboratory and in clinical trials, we are seeing dramatic responses in patients with tumours that are resistant to conventional high-dose chemotherapy," he said in a statement, adding: “The merging of gene therapy, synthetic biology and cell biology is providing new treatment options for patients with refractory malignancies and represents a novel class of therapeutics with the potential to transform cancer care." 

Speaking to ITV, Riddell also said: “The beauty of this treatment is that it’s a one-shot deal. It’s literally a tiny infusion of just 10-20 million cells in many patients that’s eliminating kilograms of tumour, and that’s all they have to have done”.

The research is still in early stages and details remain thin, given that it is currently being reviewed for publication. 

Nevertheless, the top-line data has sparked hope for a new approach to fighting cancer, particularly as separate research from Italian researchers suggests that such engineered T-cells could remain effective in the body for 14 years.