Calgary

Alberta becomes 3rd province to offer promising leukemia and lymphoma treatment

The provincial government and the Alberta Cancer Foundation are teaming up to invest $15 million to offer a leading edge therapy that sees a patient’s own immune cells genetically reprogrammed to attack cancer cells in their body.

'Establishing the CAR T-cell therapy program in Alberta is an enormous leap forward'

Calgary hematologist Dr. Andrew Daly says it's an enormous leap forward for Alberta to offer CAR T-cell therapy to cancer patients. (CBC)

Alberta will soon become the third province in Canada to offer a promising treatment known as CAR T-cell therapy to people with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma.

The Province of Alberta and the Alberta Cancer Foundation said Monday they were teaming up to invest $15 million to offer the leading edge therapy that sees a patient's own immune cells genetically reprogrammed to attack cancer cells in their body.

Ontario and Quebec were the first two provinces to offer CAR T-cell therapy.

Under the therapy, a patient's T-cells are isolated, genetically modified and expanded to sufficient numbers in a laboratory. After that, the T-cells are returned to the patient, where they multiply and continue fighting the cancer cells.

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, according to the province. 

Martha Kandt of Lacombe, Alta., went to the United States to get the therapy before it was available in Alberta.

"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," Kandt said in a release.

"I'm not through this yet, but I'm in a good place and now I can just focus on my recovery."

She said she was glad the treatment will to be available in Alberta.

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

Alberta Health is investing $10 million in the project and $5 million will come from the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

"Establishing the CAR T-cell therapy program in Alberta is an enormous leap forward in the treatment of patients with hematological malignancies," said hematologist Dr. Andrew Daly in the news release.

"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."

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

Treatment using CAR T-cells manufactured in the U.S. is expected to begin by winter 2020 at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, and at the Alberta Children's Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute at a later date. 

The Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton is expected to begin offering the treatment by 2023.

"We want to provide Albertans with the same recovery opportunities, and that's why we're establishing a made-in-Alberta program," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a release. 

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

With files from The Canadian Press

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