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The ‘incredible’ cancer therapy Aussies can’t access



Two thousand Australians are diagnosed every year with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, and most relapse and pass away within 12 months. Myeloma Australia hopes the CAR-T therapy cilta-cel could change this and the advocacy group is calling on a government committee to recommend funding the costly treatment, which costs more than $400,000 in the US.Former Melbourne general practitioner Dr Nigel Rosen took part in a trial after undergoing several treatments for multiple myeloma, and had his immune cells extracted and sent to the US. They were genetically altered to fight his cancer, sent back to Australia and infused back into his blood. He said the one-off treatment was a “game changer” for him, and he has more energy to enjoy life and see his family.“(My wife and I) can walk along the beach,” he said.“Plus I’m mentally more alert and a lot more positive.” He said he was so excited to have been selected for the trial and hopes the treatment can be made more widely accessible. “I always remember my wife (answered the phone) … and came dancing into the room full of joy,” he said.The Alfred hospital’s head of haematology Professor Andrew Spencer said the therapy, in simple terms, “teaches the body to kill the tumour cells”. “Rather than relying on a drug to do it, it actually harnesses the body’s own anti-cancer capability,” he said.Prof Spencer said a quarter to a third of patients will have tried every type of treatment currently available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and kept relapsing “within maybe two years”.“(CAR-T therapy, cilta-cel) is probably the most exciting thing that’s come along in a long, long time for patients with myeloma.”He said it was important to emphasise it wasn’t an immediate cure and wouldn’t necessarily work – or last – for everyone, but it gave patients hope they could live longer. “It’s very, very gratifying to be able to say, well, actually, there’s something else we can try,” he said.“The response rates seen with this sort of treatment are very, very high – approaching 100 per cent.“It’s possible that this may be the only thing that’s come along so far that might actually cure a proportion of patients.Myeloma Australia interim chief Hayley Beer said the therapy “heralds a new front in the fight against cancer” and could help those who have exhausted three or more treatments. “Typically, half of these patients will not be alive within a year, but with CAR-T cell therapy three-in-four are alive two years after treatment,” she said. “Australia is on the cusp of a new era where we treat multiple myeloma with a one-off,personalised procedure to prime the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells,”“A single CAR-T cell can kill 1000 cancer cells.” Public submissions to the Medical Services Advisory Committee – which will decide whether or not to recommend public funding for the treatment – close on June 10. A decision is expected later this year.

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