CAR T-cell therapy showing positive patient outcomes

June 20, 2022

EDMONTON – Clinical trials for “Made-in-Alberta” Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy are showing very promising results for some patients where chemotherapy and radiation have stopped working.

Last fall, Don Goss suffered a relapse seven weeks after finishing two years of traditional chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. At the time, he made the difficult decision to go into hospice care as he didn’t feel he could withstand more chemotherapy.

“That very same day, I was offered the chance to enter the new CAR-T trial,” says Goss. “This new, revolutionary treatment has saved my life. I am now three months and counting since I had it and am cancer-free, without suffering the considerable side effects of chemo.”

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy genetically reprograms a person’s immune cells to attack cancer cells in the body. A patient’s T-cells are extracted and, in a laboratory, they are genetically modified and multiplied before being returned to the patient.

Most patients receive only one infusion as these cells continue to multiply and fight cancer cells. This therapy is used to treat children and adults with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma for whom chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment have stopped working.

The clinical trials at the Cross Cancer Institute will soon be expanding to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and use CAR T-cell therapy developed by AHS in collaboration with the University of Alberta. Approximately 80 per cent of patients in these trials have seen their cancers significantly diminish or are in long-term remission after CAR T-cell therapy.

“Providing Albertans convenient and swift treatment at home with a Made-in-Alberta solution is a step in the right direction,” says Jason Copping, Minister of Health. “CAR T-cell therapy could be a game-changer as we are seeing some remarkable results. Because of the Alberta Cellular Therapy Program grant through Alberta’s government, clinical trials, like CAR-T therapy, can provide hope for Albertans when they need it the most.

The first patients began treatment in the clinical trials in March 2021. The trials were established by Alberta Health Services and funded through a $10-million investment from the Government of Alberta and a $5-million grant from the Alberta Cancer Foundation. CAR-T therapy is also offered using a commercially available product. To date, 18 patients have been treated using these products at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary.

“Leading the Made-in-Alberta trial is an exciting opportunity to bring additional cell therapy options to Albertans,” says medical oncologist Dr. Michael Chu, lead of the clinical trials that are based at the Cross Cancer Institute. “We have successfully treated 10 patients to date and are seeing long-term remission in some, suggesting that we may have cured them of their cancer after all other treatments have failed.”

The Made-in-Alberta clinical trials will expand to Calgary by the end of summer.

This investment has also allowed AHS to deliver standard of care CAR-T therapy to 18 patients at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre using commercially developed products, and this fall, will expand to offer it at the Cross Cancer Centre Institute.

Clinical trials are studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs or procedures. Patients volunteer to participate in these studies, and medical professionals gain valuable information from the results. Clinical trials are one of the best ways to test new methods to diagnose, treat, manage and prevent cancer.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.