Mayo man first in Ireland to receive groundbreaking cell therapy for cancer

Patients requiring CAR-T immunotherapy previously had to travel to UK for treatment

A Co Mayo man has become the first patient in Ireland to receive groundbreaking cell therapy treatment for blood cancer.

The man, who is in his 60s, was administered the CAR-T immunotherapy at St James’s Hospital in Dublin on Monday.

Up to now, patients needing CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor – T cell) therapy had to travel to the UK to receive it.

CAR-T involves collecting a patient’s own T cells, which are then prepared for export in the stem cell laboratory at St James’s Hospital. They are sent overseas to a CAR-T manufacturing plant, where they are re-engineered to target cancer cells.

The modified T cells are sent back to the the hospital’s lab and then re-infused in the patients, who are also administered chemotherapy over three days.

The once-off treatment has a success rate of about 40 per cent and is given as a last-line treatment to patients who would otherwise face terminal illness. The cost per patient has not been disclosed, but is though to be about €300,000.

The HSE spent €8.18 million on Irish patients receiving this therapy in the UK in 2019 and 2020, through the Treatment Abroad scheme. About 20-25 patients a year are expected to benefit from its availability in Ireland.

The patient, who was referred from University Hospital Galway, said he was “thrilled” to be able to access the treatment in Ireland. “I feel like I was on the edge of a cliff about to fall off and I’ve been thrown a rope and I’m going to grab it with both hands. It has not been an easy road for me and my family, but now I feel like I have a fighting chance,” according to the man, who wishes to remain anonymous.

On Monday, under the care of consultant haematologist Dr Larry Bacon and clinical nurse specialist Liz Higgins, he received an infusion of his own CAR-T cells in the National Adult Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant unit of the hospital. The unit has 30 years’ experience in bone marrow transplantation and was recently designated Ireland’s National Adult CAR-T Cell Centre.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he hoped CAR-T therapy would greatly improve treatment outcomes for many patients over the coming years. “It is great to see the direct benefits that this funding is bringing to patients through new initiatives such as CAR-T therapy.”

Dr Bacon described the therapy as “a lifeline for suitable blood cancer patients whose other treatment options have been exhausted”.

Dr Bacon said: “It is the most advanced immunotherapy currently available for patients with lymphoma. CAR-T therapy marks a huge breakthrough in the treatment of relapsed and refractory disease in particular, and St James’s Hospital is very pleased to be able to treat these patients in Ireland for the first time.”

At present, the new therapy is licensed to treat specific blood cancer, including including Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Over time, it is expected its use will grow to include many other diseases.

CAR-T therapy is available in more than 15 EU countries, and has been publicly available in England through the NHS since 2018.

Via Irish TImes 

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