If you do not know about the new cancer therapy that was approved by FDA yet then maybe you are living under the rock. Fret not because TBC has got you covered. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday approved Novartis’s Kymriah, also known as Tisagenlecleucel , a treatment for pediatric acute lymphoblastic lymphoblastic leukemia. The treatment is also called CAR T-cell therapy.
As long as we can remember, treatments for cancer has included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The main problem with these treatments is the fact that they only target cancer cells and tumors and once the treatment is stopped, the drugs stop showing results.
On the other hand, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy or CAR-T therapy targets the patient’s immune system and helps it fight cancer cells. In this treatment, the patient’s own cells are taken, re-engineered and then put back in the body where they act as attacking cells that target the cancer cells. In other words, it is like a vaccine for cancer and helps the immune system fight cancer cells for a lifetime.
The therapy came into the limelight when doctors used it to treat a girl of 6 named Emily Whitehead who was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Now Emily is 12 years old and is cancer free. The treatment has been a boon to those for whom all other therapies have stopped working both children and adults. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated on Wednesday, “We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer.”
Though it is a ground breaking achievement in the field of Oncology, the therapy comes with its own set of dangers like any other cancer treatment. Earlier, few patients who underwent this treatment allegedly suffered cerebral edema and lost their lives. But now that more safety measures are taken and the treatment is modified, one of the biggest hurdle that the scientists are facing now is how the immune system of the patients respond because every patient gets his personalized cells which are re-engineered from his own cells. Every immune system works differently and the success of the treatment depends on the response of the system of the person. Therefore, the person experiences high fever and inflammation which maybe dangerous to the person.
For now, the treatment has been approved only for patients who suffer from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The drug is made available in only some of the cancer centers across America under very specific conditions for its use.
As Leukemia is a type of blood cancer, it is easier to re-engineer T-cells and deliver them through the blood. Scientists are now trying to find out ways so that cancer that occurs outside blood can also be treated with a similar type of therapy.
Though CAR T therapy is a one time treatment, it is way costlier than any other cancer treatment. Companies producing this drug might put the price tag as high as $300,000 or more. Because the personalized treatment requires to take the particular patient’s cells, re-engineer it and then transfer it back to the patient’s body, the cost is way higher than chemotherapy or even radiation therapy.