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New provincial cancer therapy program announced

Albertans with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma will soon have access in Calgary and Edmonton to a $15-million provincial cancer therapy program, commonly known as CAR T-cell therapy.

Alberta’s government is partnering with the Alberta Cancer Foundation to provide $15 million to Alberta Health Services (AHS) so this treatment can be offered closer to home. Alberta will be the third province to offer CAR T-cell therapy, which is also available in Ontario and Quebec.

“CAR T-cell therapy trials have demonstrated durable remissions and potential cures in about 50 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of children and young adults. We want to provide Albertans with the same recovery opportunities, and that’s why we’re establishing a made-in-Alberta program. Our government is pleased to be partnering with the Alberta Cancer Foundation to make this happen.” Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

The funding will be used to conduct a clinical trial – with CAR T-cells manufactured within Alberta – at three sites: the Cross Cancer Institute, the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic and the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

The funding will also pay for nursing staff, training and education for health care workers, patient education and psychosocial support, lab and diagnostic imaging, and follow-up care.

“We are grateful to the provincial government for providing additional, significant funding to help bring this program to Albertans. Alberta is home to such bright minds in the emerging field of immunotherapy and our donors are excited about this game-changing technology that has potential to change the way we treat cancer here and around the world.” Wendy Beauchesne, CEO, Alberta Cancer Foundation

Treatment using CAR T-cells manufactured in the U.S. is expected to begin by winter 2020 at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, with the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute to follow. The Stollery Children’s Hospital is expected to begin offering treatment by 2023.

“CAR T-cell therapy is a game-changing treatment that offers some patients their only chance to survive cancer. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada applauds the Government of Alberta for its commitment in ensuring that those affected by a blood cancer can have timely access to treatment when they need it. This positive change is an extraordinary step in advancing CAR T-cell therapy to the forefront of cancer care.” Alicia Talarico, president, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada

CAR T-cell therapy genetically reprograms a patient’s immune cells to attack the cancer cells in their body. It is usually provided to patients when conventional cancer treatments are ineffective.

“Establishing the CAR T-cell therapy program in Alberta is an enormous leap forward in the treatment of patients with hematological malignancies. This is life-saving therapy. Having seen the impact of this treatment on my patients treated out of country, I am excited to offer it locally where more patients can benefit from this treatment.” Dr. Andrew Daly, Alberta Health Services

“I was given three months to live and we didn’t have the option of getting CAR T therapy here, but it was available in the U.S. So; as a family we decided the risk was worth it, to see if the treatment would work. I recently had a PET scan and I am in remission. I am very grateful and thankful. I’m not through this yet, but I’m in a good place and now I can just focus on my recovery. I’m so pleased this treatment is going to be available to Albertans who need it.” Martha Kandt, resident of Lacombe and cancer patient

Quick facts

  • CAR T-cell therapy is considered the standard of care for specific leukemia and lymphoma cancers if they recur.

  • With this therapy, a patient’s T-cells are isolated, genetically modified and expanded to sufficient numbers in a laboratory. Then, the T-cells are returned to the patient. Most patients receive only one infusion as these cells have the ability to multiply and continue fighting the cancer cells.

  • It is expected that about 150 patients will be eligible to receive this treatment in Alberta over the next three years.

Provincial Press Release August 24, 2020 10:35 am


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