Seven people with leukemia have been cured in Spain thanks to CAR-T, a novel immunotherapeutic technique
At the end of last year, a good prognosis in the fight against cancer was announced: CAR-T, the immune system, would be immediately included in the National Health Service. We already have the first results: seven cures.
CART-T therapy, despite its limitations, seems tremendously efficient in treating hematopoietic cancer, such as leukemia, which mainly affects the youngest. Of 41 people, the disease of seven has already completely remitted.
Seven patients cured in Spain, to date
In 2017 the CAR Group was created, sponsored by the Spanish Society of Hematology and Hemotherapy (SEHH), and framed within the Spanish Group of Cell Therapy and Cryobiology (GETCC). Its function, basically, would be to carry out a leading research development in the practical medical field, throughout the national territory.
Last year, finally, Health announced in the middle of the year that CAR-T therapy, developed in our territory by the group, was almost ready. By the end of the year, 41 patients had already been treated between Madrid and Barcelona. In December, the cure for the first child was announced, after several months of treatment. Today, however, we have more good news.
Six other patients, announces the press, have seen a remission of the disease after incorporating this treatment into the National Health System, the SNS. Thanks to this action, this therapy, which is still extremely expensive, is presenting its first results, in just a few months of application. Three of these seven patients have already been discharged.
CAR-T, what does this therapy consist of?
CAR T-Lymphocyte Therapy chimeric antigen receptor, is a type of immunotherapy that takes advantage of the white blood cells themselves (specifically T lymphocytes, as their name indicates) to attack tumor cells. For this, these lymphocytes are extracted and taken to the laboratory.
Once there, they are "re-educated" using genetic modification techniques. Once modified to successfully attack oncogenic cells, they replicate and prepare. From there they return to the patient to whom they are administered again intravenously. These cells then return to normal activity with a slight difference: they identify the tumor cells.
In addition, they also help the rest of the immune system to identify these cells, so it is the entire immune system itself, which is responsible for killing cancer cells that swarm the body. Unfortunately, this therapy is still in its early stages, despite the years of development.
This means, first of all, that the technique is extremely expensive since the modification processes are very expensive. On the other hand, this also assumes that, although effective with some types of cancer, it is not for everyone, far from it. In fact, it is only effective for certain types of leukemia, something that will change as we better understand the technology involved.
A hope against cancer
An estimated 3,500 people die from leukemia each year in Spain. This disease predominantly affects children and young people. Fortunately, the field of immunotherapy is beginning to emerge in an incredible way. CAR-T therapy is an example of this. As we said, despite its relative novelty, it has proven to be very efficient in certain circumstances.
But, in addition, it is only a matter of time that we learn to improve the genetic reprogramming of this technique with a view to improving its usefulness. Does this mean that the day may come when we use CAR-T for other cancers? If possible. And even if it were not, it is still a beacon of hope for leukemia patients as it is presented as an effective and less invasive or aggressive therapy than other alternatives.
CAR-T is currently leading the world in "personalized" therapies for its effectiveness and utility. In Madrid, only the Gregorio Marañón and Niño Jesús hospitals can apply these therapies at the moment. Madrid has asked the Ministry to include La Paz and October 12 in the CAR-T regular program, something that we will probably see shortly.
In Catalonia, there are five of the eleven currently accredited hospitals in Spain: Clinic, Sant Pau, Vall d´Hebron (two units) and Sant Joan de Deu. Thus, the application of this therapy, which in less than a year is already healing patients, is going from strength to strength. It is only a matter of time to reduce costs and improve its effectiveness, opening new avenues in the fight against leukemia and who knows if not other types of cancer.
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