Hundreds more people with cancer are now set to receive personalised CAR-T therapies after NHS England struck new deals to expand access to the potentially life-saving treatments.

The cutting-edge immunotherapies, which use a patient’s own immune cells to create a tailored treatment, will immediately be made available through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) for people with one of two forms of blood cancer.

CAR-T, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system and using immune cells to target their cancer.

The treatments, which are provided at highly-specialised NHS centres, involve taking the patient’s blood to a laboratory, ‘training’ their immune cells to fight the cancer cells and then administering the treated blood back into the patient.

Up to 215 adult patients each year with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma whose cancer has returned within a year of treatment or who have not had success with at least one previous therapy will be eligible for treatment with axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta®) from today.

Previously patients were required to have tried two or more systemic therapies before they were eligible for Yescarta.

Similarly, people aged 26 years and older with returning or untreatable B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia will be eligible for treatment with brexucabtagene autoleucel (Tecartus®). It is estimated that as many as 75 additional patients with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia each year will benefit from today’s (27th April) decision. Those under 26 are already eligible for treatment with an alternative CAR-T therapy.

NHS National Director for Cancer Professor Peter Johnson said: “The NHS continues to take great strides forward in cancer care and it is fantastic that through the Cancer Drugs Fund, we can make cutting-edge CAR-T therapies available to hundreds more patients with advanced blood cancers, giving them real hope of a longer and better quality of life.

“The NHS continues to be a world leader when it comes to diagnosing cancer earlier and providing the latest treatments to patients at a price affordable to taxpayers”.

Both treatments are manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc and have been given the green light by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and NHS England to enter the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), allowing further evidence of long-term effectiveness of both therapies to be collected, while allowing early patient access.

Early clinical trials of CAR-T therapies have shown positive results, including curing some patients of advanced cancer that had failed to respond to other treatments.

Speaking onstage at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) later today, NHS Director of Specialised Services, John Stewart will say: “The NHS led the way in making ground breaking CAR-T therapy available to children with a form of leukaemia and today we can announce deals that will enable two new CAR-T therapies that could benefit hundreds more adults with certain blood cancers.

“In its 75th year, the NHS continues to show that it is a health system that is serious about adopting and advancing innovative care and treatment, and securing deals that can improve patient’s lives.”

Health Minister Helen Whately said: “These personalised therapies mean a patient’s own immune system attacks their cancer – an exciting and innovative cancer treatment now available for NHS patients.

“This new therapy is a brilliant example of how modern science is transforming healthcare and saving lives.

“We’re laser-focused on fighting cancer on all fronts – prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, backed up with funding and research – and this is another example of the huge efforts being made by scientists, charities and the government to combat cancer”.

The NHS in England now offers three different CAR-T therapies for six different indications, benefitting adults and children with a range of cancers, having been the first health system in Europe to agree a full access deal on breakthrough CAR-T therapy nearly five years ago.

A form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, around 5,500 people in England are diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma each year, according to Cancer Research UK.

Almost 800 people a year are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia each year. Although rare, it is most common in children aged under 5.


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