Breakthrough CAR-T Cell Therapy Offers New Hope for Children with Leukaemia

Part of the team at La Arrixaca Hospital

La Arrixaca leads the way in CAR-T cell therapy. Image: Twitter/ Área 1 Arrixaca

IN a groundbreaking development, La Arrixaca, a renowned hospital in the Region of Murcia, has initiated the treatment of children with leukaemia using CAR-T cells, a revolutionary therapy that has shown promising results. This advanced treatment marks a significant milestone in paediatric oncology, offering new hope for young patients battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

One such patient, Thais, a 9-year-old girl from Ecuador, became the first child to receive CAR-T cell therapy in the Region of Murcia after conventional treatments and a bone marrow transplant failed to eliminate her cancer. Thais’s journey to La Arrixaca was made possible through the collaboration between the Foundation for the Fight against Leukaemia (FELL) and the Murcian Health Service (SMS), which has facilitated the treatment of numerous children from Ecuador at the hospital.

Leukaemia, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, is the most common cancer affecting children. While chemotherapy has proven successful in curing around 90% of cases, approximately one in ten patients experience relapse, leading to a significantly worse prognosis. Thais’s case exemplifies the desperate situation faced by patients who exhaust traditional treatment options.

However, a glimmer of hope emerged with the advent of CAR-T cell therapy. La Arrixaca’s Haematology service, under the guidance of renowned expert Dr. José María Moraleda, has been at the forefront of cell therapy research and implementation. The hospital has emerged as one of the six authorised institutions in Spain, and one of the few treating both adults and children with CAR-T cell therapy.

CAR-T therapy represents a groundbreaking immunotherapy strategy that utilises a patient’s own lymphocytes to target and destroy malignant cells. The process involves extracting the patient’s lymphocytes, genetically modifying them in the laboratory to identify and eliminate cancer cells, and then reintroducing the modified cells back into the patient’s system. This personalised approach offers a precise and potent treatment directed at specific tumour antigens.

Previously, CAR-T treatments were licensed primarily for advanced cases of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma. However, the efficacy and manageable toxicity of CAR-T therapy have prompted efforts to expand its application to a broader range of cancers.

La Arrixaca Hospital, in Murcia has been instrumental in driving this development, collaborating closely with the Clínic de Barcelona on various clinical trials. Encouraging results from one of these trials, focused on multiple myeloma, were recently published in ‘The Lancet Oncology’, revealing a 70% complete remission rate at 18 months for treated patients.

Beyond advancing the efficacy of CAR-T treatments, La Arrixaca is also striving to make them more accessible and affordable. Commercial CAR-T therapies currently come with a high cost, but the hospital aims to establish its own CAR-T cell processing facility, reducing expenses and making the therapy more accessible to a broader patient population.

In the realm of paediatric oncology, CAR-T cell therapy represents a significant leap forward, offering renewed optimism for children like Thais and their families. With ongoing research, advancements in treatment protocols, and a commitment to accessible healthcare, La Arrixaca continues to pave the way for improved outcomes and brighter futures for children battling leukaemia.

Link to The Lancelot Oncology: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(19)30641-2/fulltext

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!

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