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Makers of a revolutionary cancer treatment asked to slash its ‘eye-watering’ cost

Nice announced it was unable to approve a type of CAR-T therapy for thousands of patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer
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The makers of a revolutionary cancer treatment have today been asked to slash its price by the NHS watchdog.

Nice announced it was unable to approve a type of CAR-T therapy for thousands of patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Its cost of almost £800,000 per patient – 20 times as much as chemotherapy – has been branded ‘eye-watering’ by charities.

But it has been hailed as a potential cure for aggressive blood cancers and patients given just a few months can expect to survive to old age on the drug.

CAR-T therapy works by turbo-charging the body’s immune system – by injecting a series of hormones – so it is to attack the cancer itself.

Nice announced it was unable to approve a type of CAR-T therapy for thousands of patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer

Nice announced it was unable to approve a type of CAR-T therapy for thousands of patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer

Trials have shown up to half of patients are in remission after taking the treatment, having previously had just months to live.

But it does not work for everyone and some patients on medical trials have suffered fatal side effects, including the accumulation of water on the brain.

Officials at Nice said there was still ‘great uncertainty’ over the benefits for patients and as such, they needed to see more evidence before making it available.

In the meantime, the watchdog and NHS England will begin negotiations with the manufacturer Kite Pharma to try and substantially lower the price.

Charities said the decision to not recommend Yescarta, or axicabtagene ciloleucel, was ‘disappointing’ and urged the manufacturer to bring down the cost.

This particular type of CAR-T therapy works for an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive type of blood cancer.

Up to 4,800 adults in England are diagnosed with this cancer in England every year of whom a third will die within five years.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research and patient experience at the blood cancer charity Bloodwise, said: ‘It’s extremely disappointing that people with advanced and highly aggressive blood cancers might not be able to access this breakthrough treatment that offers the genuine chance of a cure.

‘CAR-T therapies are an entirely new type of treatment and are expensive, so it understandable that there will be a number of uncertainties and questions that need to be answered. 

‘We hope over the coming weeks the NHS and the pharmaceutical company can work to address these issues and agree on a price so that patients can benefit.’

WHAT IS CAR-T THERAPY? 

CAR-T therapy works by turbo-charging the body’s immune system – by injecting a series of hormones – so it is to attack the cancer itself.

Trials have shown up to half of patients are in remission after taking the treatment, having previously had just months to live.

But it does not work for everyone and some patients on medical trials have suffered fatal side effects, including the accumulation of water on the brain.

Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has hailed the treatment – whose full name is chimeric antigen receptor therapy – as one of the most ‘innovative’ procedures the health service has ever been offered.

Professor Raj Chopra, head of cancer therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, one of the country’s leading cancer units, said: ‘It’s disappointing that patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who have exhausted all other treatment options will not be able to access CAR T cell therapy – a brand new type of treatment for blood cancers.

‘CAR-T cell therapy uses a patient’s own genetically modified immune cells to target their cancer. 

‘The technique is complex and expensive, but it is also a major advance in cancer treatment that has cured some patients who would otherwise have died.

‘If we’re going to see CAR-T therapy widely available on the NHS, we need to find ways to reduce the costs.’

Patients undergoing the treatment initially have a sample of blood removed from their body, which is then ‘sieved’ to separate out the white blood cells.

These white blood cells are then frozen, sent to a lab in Pennsylvania, thawed and injected with a mixture of molecules which enable them to attack the cancer more effectively.

They are then left in the lab to grow before being frozen and sent back to the UK.

The whole process takes about two to three weeks and costs approximately $1 million or £770,000.

Last week the Mail revealed how Nice was unlikely to approve this particular CAR-T therapy because of the price and lack of evidence.

Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has hailed the treatment – whose full name is chimeric antigen receptor therapy – as one of the most ‘innovative’ procedures the health service has ever been offered.

Meindert Boysen, director of the centre for health technology evaluation at Nice, said: ‘CAR-T is an exciting innovation in very difficult to treat cancers, with a promise of cure for some patients.

‘We have been working with the companies involved, and with NHS England, with the aim of ensuring that patients in England are among the first to have access to these new treatments in Europe.’ 


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