'Breakthrough' Leukaemia Treatment Could Be A One-Shot Cure

Right now, at least two Australian families with children battling life-threatening leukeamia have packed up their lives for a new and possibly life-saving treatment overseas. 

The federal government is taking steps to bring the treatment to Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday asked state and territory leaders to back what's being hailed as revolutionary CAR-T therapy being made available in our public hospitals.

Destruction of leukaemia blood cell, computer illustration. Image: Getty

Chimeric antigen receptor CAR-T cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy that uses a person's own immune cells to attack and destroy cancer cells.

The patient's T-cells are taken from their blood and "supercharged" with a gene containing a special receptor that targets and attaches to cancerous cells. They're grown in a lab for several weeks before being infused back into the patient's body.

Chief executive of Rare Cancers Australia Richard Vine told ten daily the single-shot treatment was a "breakthrough" with exciting potential.

"When it works, it saves lives," he said.

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Vine said the therapy is being made available to patients in the US with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia who have failed all other treatments, including chemotherapy.

About 200 children under 14 are disproportionately impacted by the rare cancer in Australia each year.

"Clinical trials show that 81 percent of these children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia who have no other options respond to CAR-T therapy," he said. 

"The current treatments can have huge side effects and these kids are sick for a really long time. What makes this different is it's just one shot -- a single treatment."

"Importantly there is also good reason to believe that CAR-T will have high levels of effectiveness in a number of other hard-to-treat cancers." 

Minister Hunt told ten daily he wants to make Australia one of the "global centres" of the treatment.

"I'm inviting all of the states to work with the Australian government to help make this a reality at the earliest possible time," he said in a statement.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is assessing Kymriah, a form of CAR-T for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukeamia for use in Australia.

The Medical Services Advisory Committee is also investigating the safety, effectiveness and cost of the treatment, and will report back to the government in November.

"While it’s still early days, these types of therapies have the potential to save lives and protect lives and we look forward to the results of investigations by the appropriate experts," Hunt said.

Contact the author at ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty