First Patient Receives CAR T Cell Therapy on NHS

cancer therapy

A pioneering new cancer therapy has been administered for the first time on the NHS to an 11-year-old boy with leukaemia. 

Yuvan became the first NHS patient to receive tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah) – a type of immunotherapy called CAR T cell therapy that modifies a patient’s own immune cells so they recognise and attack cancer cells. He was treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is one of three UK hospitals that can offer this complex therapy along with Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. 

The treatment was approved in autumn 2018 for some children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) whose cancer has either not responded or come back after standard treatments, including stem cell transplants.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, called the news “fantastic” and said that the therapy gave children another option when their cancer returns. 

Global collaboration

Yuvan’s treatment began in November last year when doctors collected immune cells called T cells from his blood. The cells then went through a complex laboratory procedure to engineer them to recognise and kill cancer cells. This saw the cells travel around the world before returning to the hospital and Yuvan’s bloodstream.

“This is an incredibly complex treatment to give,” said Swanton. “Yuvan’s cells were processed in both Europe and the US – and needed collaboration across borders to get the T cell infusion back to London so he could be treated.”

Swanton added that the UK was one of the first countries in the world to approve the therapy, showing that the NHS remains at the forefront of innovation when it comes to new cancer treatments.

Increasing treatment options

Dr Sara Ghorashian, consultant in paediatric haematology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Yuvan’s doctor, said they were so pleased to be able to offer Yuvan another treatment option.

“While it will be a while before the outcome of this powerful new therapy is known, the treatment has shown very promising results in clinical trials and we are hopeful that it will help,” said Ghorashain. 

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia affects around 600 people, mostly children, each year in the UK. And around 1 in 10 cases will return after treatment. 

Swanton said that more research is underway to identify who’s most likely to benefit from CAR T cell therapy, as well as how to further refine the technique, so as many as possible can benefit.