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Bloodwise welcomes news that CAR-T cell therapy could be made available on NHS

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
Posted by
26 Apr 2018

Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T) could be made available on the NHS this year. The pioneering treatment has shown huge promise in clinical trials around the world in people with blood cancer who fail to respond to other treatments.

A scientist at work in a laboratory

The news was announced today by NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens at the Association of British Pharmaceuticals Industry’s annual conference. He said, “Preparations are underway to make CAR-T, one of the most innovative treatments that has ever been offered on the NHS, available to patients, but manufacturers need to set fair and affordable prices so treatments can be made available to all who need them.”

CAR-T cell therapy is viewed as one of the most promising developments in cancer treatment in recent years. Immune cell samples are taken from the patient and genetically modified in a laboratory to recognise, seek out and kill cancer cells, providing a personalised treatment for each patient. Because the body will always retain a number of these white blood cells that recognise leukaemia cells as harmful, patients could theoretically have a life-long ‘immunity’ to the cancer, much like in diseases such as chickenpox.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Bloodwise Director of Research said: “This is a really positive step for some people living with cancer whose lives cannot be saved using the treatments doctors can already provide. We are confident that the first therapies to be approved for use by the NHS will be for patients with blood cancer, because that is where we have seen the first strong results in clinical trials. These have shown that CAR-T can offer a lifeline to some people with life-threatening forms of lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and other types of blood cancer.

“It’s important to recognise that this is just the beginning for a completely new type of cancer therapy. While it is an exciting time, even once the first therapies are approved, only a small number of people will be treated in this way at first and not unless other forms of effective cancer treatment have been shown not to work. However we can expect to see CAR-T therapy develop significantly over the next decade.

“These therapies are expensive, and in order for them to become widely available, manufacturers need to set fair prices so that they are both affordable and sustainable in the long term. It is also vital that this new treatment does not take NHS resources away from the many thousands of people with blood cancer for whom it won’t be appropriate.

“It is essential that proper consideration is given to the other factors that will be paramount if CAR-T therapy is to be implemented appropriately. Doing so will require more than just cash funding, as in order to administer this type of treatment the NHS will need to provide many more intensive care beds plus significant additional nursing support.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US medicines regulator, approved the use of CAR-T cell therapy for the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma last year.

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