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Pioneering blood cancer treatment to be approved for use across Europe

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Updated 29 Jun 2018

A ground breaking form of cancer treatment that trains patients’ own immune cells to kill cancer cells is a step closer to becoming available on the NHS, after the approval of the first two drugs of its type by the European Union’s medicines regulator.

The chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T) drugs Yescarta and Kymriah were recommended to be licensed today by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the treatment of a number of types of blood cancer, including childhood leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

CAR-T cell therapies involve immune cell samples being taken from the patient and genetically modified in a laboratory to recognise, seek out and kill cancer cells, before being put back into the patient’s blood system.  They have shown huge promise in clinical trials around the world in people with blood cancer who fail to respond to other treatments, and are already available for use in the United States.

CAR-T therapy is designed to be a one-off treatment. Because the body will always retain a number of white blood cells that recognise cancer cells as harmful, patients are theoretically given a life-long ‘immunity’.

Yescarta and Kymriah are currently being assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use on the NHS in England. A decision on both drugs is expected by late 2018.  

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research and Patient Experience at Bloodwise, said: “The development of CAR-T therapy is one of the most promising advances in blood cancer treatment in decades, and while it would initially only be offered to patients who have run out of other options, it offers the genuine chance of a cure for these patients.

“Today’s decision means that one of the most exciting types of blood cancer treatment we’ve ever seen has taken another step towards becoming available on the NHS. The next step is for NICE to decide whether to make these treatments available and then for the NHS to get the complex infrastructure in place that CAR-T relies on.”

NICE is currently assessing the use of Yescarta for the treatment of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), mediastinal B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma and Kymriah for the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and DLBCL. ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer and DLBCL is the most common type of lymphoma.