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Alberta the third province to offer promising leukemia and lymphoma treatment

CALGARY — Alberta has become the third province in Canada to offer a promising treatment for individuals with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma.

The provincial government, in partnership with the Alberta Cancer Foundation, has earmarked $15 million for the program, commonly known as CAR T-cell therapy.  

"CAR T-cell therapy ... genetically reprograms a person's immune cells to attack cancer cells in the body and then after the genetic mutations happen in the laboratory infuse back into the patient," Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at a news conference in Calgary.

"It's provided when conventional treatments are ineffective and the cancer reoccurs."

Alberta will be the third province to offer CAR T-cell therapy, which is also available in Ontario and Quebec.

Shandro said the therapy will be available to about 60 patients a year and the cost is about $400,000 per individual.

He said the funding will be used to conduct a clinical trial — with CAR T-cells manufactured in Alberta — at three sites: the Cross Cancer Institute, Tom Baker Cancer Clinic and Alberta Children's Hospital.

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

Shandro said the results of the treatment have been positive.

"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," he said.

Treatment using cells manufactured in the U.S. is expected to begin by wintertime at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, with the Alberta Children's Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute to follow.

"CAR T-cell therapy is a game-changing treatment that offers some patients their only chance to survive cancer," said Alicia Talarico, president of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.

Martha Kandt, from Lacombe, Alta., said she was given three months to live and sought the treatment in the U.S.

"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'm so pleased this treatment is going to be available to Albertans who need it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 24, 2020.


The Canadian Press

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