Updated: Dec 30, 2018
You may have seen articles across mainstream media today about a new ‘game-changing’ cancer treatment that will be provided on the NHS for a small number of children and young people. The treatment, which costs around £232,000 per patient, is being made available to those under 25 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It will only be given to people who have previously undergone other treatments – like chemotherapy - that have failed. They expect it to be given to 15 to 20 young people or children in the UK a year, and they could start to get the treatment in a matter of weeks.
Why is this great news?
While the costs are exceptionally high, this treatment is being hailed as a game changer. The NHS has managed to secure a deal with the drug company just ten days after receiving European marketing authorization. Despite the small numbers of people who will initially benefit, it will hopefully pave the way for further cancer research and the finding of a cure for other cancers. And of course, saving the lives of 15 to 20 young people is a success to be celebrated.
So what is it?
The treatment is called CAR-T therapy (Chimeric Antigen Receptor - T Cell Therapy). T cells are essentially a type of white blood cell, called ‘lymphocytes’ whose job is to fight infection and diseases in the body. But they are unable to recognize cancer cells.
T-cells are taken from a sample of the patient's blood and reprogrammed in the lab to create ones that are genetically coded to recognise and destroy the patient's cancer cells. This personalised "living therapy" is then given to the patient.
Why is it controversial?
The NHS has a limited pot of money and this is very expensive treatment, which means hard choices will need to be made. What’s more, it is complex to make, can have serious side effects and may not work. But it is being hailed as one of the most exciting advances in childhood leukemia for decades.
Any advancement that can be made to treat and ultimately cure cancer is great news. For parents of children who have tried everything, this is a potential lifeline. It would be fantastic to have exceptional advances and treatments like this for all cancers, and while the scientists work their magic, we can keep boosting our health by eating well, practicing self-care and supporting one another.
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