Cancer patients running out of hope to be offered ‘revolutionary’ treatment

A hospital is offering blood cancer patients who have exhausted all other treatment options a “game-changing” therapy that has the potential to beat their illness.

The treatment – which uses a person’s own cells to attack their cancer – is being rolled out at St George’s Hospital, in Blackshaw Road, Tooting, to eligible patients across Surrey and South-west London.

It’s known as CAR-T and is considered to be “highly effective”, with about 50 to 70 per cent of patients responding positively to it.

From this month, the one-time treatment will be rolled out at St George’s to certain adults with blood cancers including lymphoma and leukemia – benefitting about 20 patients in the first year and more in the years that follow.

Professor Mickey Koh, clinical director for renal, haematology and oncology at St George’s, said: “This is a very exciting medicine – a game-changer as it represents a major shift in medicine, using a patient’s own immune cells that have undergone modification and further manufacture outside of the body and then re-infused back into the patient. 

“It has been shown to be very effective, and after just one month you often already know if a patient has responded to treatment.”

But the treatment does not come without risk. Mr Koh explained that CAR-T cells can potentially cause “severe side effects”.

He added: “Fortunately, here at St George’s, we have fantastic and supportive intensive care, neurology and cardiology teams, who will be on hand should any issues arise.”

CAR-T medicine is initially prepared at St George’s where T cells – a type of immune white blood cell – are collected from a patient and transported to the pharmaceutical company.

These are then modified and multiplied to recognise and target cancer cells. A few weeks later, the modified T cells are returned back and infused into the patient’s bloodstream.

Due to the complexity of CAR-T therapy, hospitals that want to offer it have to undergo a stringent application process and satisfy NHS England that they have all the required resources, facilities, and expertise in place.

Pictured top: The team who will be delivering CAR-T at St George’s Hospital this month (Picture: St George’s Hospital)

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