Nearer to blood cancer cure?

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The Food and Drug Administration approved Novartis’ treatment Kymriah. It could be the most disruptive entrant in oncology since Herceptin.

First in class

Kymriah is a new type of drug – a truly personalised approach to treating incurable blood cancers such as refractory leukaemia and lymphoma. Called CAR-T therapy, it harvests the patient’s own white blood cells, genetically reprogramming them to seek out and destroy cancer cells, then re-infusing them back into the patient’s blood.

83% remission rate

Sadly, for people with a certain type of leukaemia, despite intensive treatment, less than 10% survive for 5 years. When treated with kymriah, which need only be administered once, 83% of patients went into complete remission, which means no traces of the cancer remain.

What’s the catch?

Side effects: 49% of treated patients experienced cytokine release syndrome, which can be deadly. And whilst 83% of patients go into complete remission, the cancer could return. Then there’s the $400-500k cost. Also, because of how it works, it’s unlikely to be effective on other cancers.

The future?

While Novartis is the first to get its CAR-T drug approved, it won’t be the last. Hot on their heels are Kite Pharma. They hope to gain approval for their drug soon. Juno also hope to get a slice of the market with their CAR-T therapy, though have got bogged down amid safety concerns.

Whatever the result, it is clear that a revolution is happening in oncology.

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