NHS patients with lymphoma have for the first time been given a pioneering treatment that genetically reprogrammes their immune system to fight cancer.
Mike Simpson, 62, from Durham, says his cancer is now “on the run”.
The therapy, called CAR-T, is a “living drug” that is tailor-made for each patient using their body’s own cells
Doctors at King’s College Hospital, London, said some patients were being completely cured in a way that had “never been seen before”.
How does the treatment work?
CAR-T is the pinnacle of personalised medicine as it has to be developed for each individual patient.
Firstly, parts of the immune system – specifically white blood cells called T-cells – are removed from the patient’s blood.
They are now “chimeric antigen receptor T-cells” – or CAR-T cells.
Millions of the modified cells are grown in the lab, before being shipped back to the UK where they are infused into the patient’s bloodstream.
The whole manufacturing process takes a month.
As this is a “living drug”, the cancer-killing T-cells stay in the body for a long time and will continue to grow and work inside the patient.
Who is benefiting?
Mike Simpson was one of the first NHS patients to be treated.
He was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma – a type of blood cancer – in 2015 when he returned from a holiday with a stiff and swollen neck.
Two bouts of chemotherapy initially controlled his cancer, but each time it returned.
By the end of 2018, he was given less than two, unpleasant and probably painful, years to live.
How effective is it?
This is a new therapy and very long-term data is still lacking.
Clinical trials have shown that 40% of patients had all signs of their otherwise untreatable, terminal lymphoma eliminated from their body 15 months after treatment.
She added: “It’s amazing to be able to see these people, who you may have not been able to give any hope to, actually achieving remission.
How much does this cost?
This truly personalised medicine – made from and for each individual patient – is unsurprisingly expensive.
The official list price for this CAR-T therapy, called Yescarta, is more than £280,000 per patient.
A deal has been struck between NHS England and the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, but how much this is costing remains confidential.