Alberta now offering life-saving T-cell cancer treatment

·2 min read
Dr. Mona Shafey says CAR T-cell treatment can be a lifeline for some cancer patients.  (Alberta Health - image credit)
Dr. Mona Shafey says CAR T-cell treatment can be a lifeline for some cancer patients. (Alberta Health - image credit)

A cancer treatment that previously required travel outside the province, or the country, is now being offered in Alberta.

The first patients to receive CAR T-cell therapy in the province are at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, while the government says a clinical trial to develop a made-in-Alberta CAR T-cell therapy is underway at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.

The new treatment is funded with $15 million from the government and the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Alberta is now the third province to offer the treatment.

CAR T-cell therapy involves taking the T-cells from a patient, genetically modifying them to fight cancer cells, expanding their numbers in a lab and then re-injecting them into the patient.

"The immunotherapy is a treatment that uses or harnesses the patient's own immune system to treat cancer, said Dr. Mona Shafey, a clinical associate professor at the University of Calgary and the director of the Alberta blood and marrow transplant program.

"Traditional chemotherapy has failed in these patients and so this is a different technique, a way of trying to get cancer under control," she said.

The treatment is used for both children and adults with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma.

Shafey said most of the patients who qualify for the new treatment would have poor chances of recovery or survival.

"Thirty to 40 per cent of patients who receive this treatment are in remission years after this treatment," she said.

"So it certainly is a lifeline for many patients who who would otherwise succumb to their illness."

The government said 150 Albertans may be eligible to receive this treatment over the next three years.

"I'm proud that Alberta has successfully launched its own CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial and is the third province to provide access to an approved version of this revolutionary cancer treatment," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.