CAR T therapy is a complex immunotherapy that is personally developed for each individual patient. It involves harvesting T cells – the immune cells that recognise and kill viruses – from the patient, reprogramming them to recognise cancer cells, and infusing them back into the patient so they attack the cancer.
Currently, CAR T therapy is being used on selected patients at King’s with a recurrence of lymphoma – a cancer that begins in the infection-fighting cells of the immune system. These cells are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and other parts of the body.
Dr Reuben Benjamin, Consultant Haematologist at King’s, who led the clinical trial that delivered the first CAR T cell therapy at King’s said: “King’s has long been at the forefront of pioneering new treatments for blood conditions so we are delighted to be offering CAR T therapy. It has been shown in trials to cure some patients, even those with advanced cancers, when other treatments have failed.”
The treatment is effective in around 40-50% of cases, including patients who did not respond well to chemotherapy, but has a unique set of side effects, including neurotoxicity, in the short-term. Dr Benjamin added: “Patients who receive the treatment can experience a range of unpleasant side effects from high fever; vomiting; and diarrhoea to confusion; aphasia (difficulty understanding or speaking); and loss of consciousness.”
King’s has been at the forefront of this therapy by bringing together researchers and clinicians as part of King’s Health Partners, turning the latest research into pioneering new treatments for patients.
As a result of this partnership, all CAR T patients are screened for anxiety and depression. Any patient showing symptoms will receive mental health support to cope with the difficult effects of the treatment. This makes King’s unique as no other UK hospital offering CAR T therapy joins up physical and mental health treatment in this way.
The NHS is providing CAR T therapies for children and young people with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and adults with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma in England.
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England and NHS Improvement said, “CAR T shows huge promise and it is fantastic to see that patients in the NHS are among the first in the world to benefit. The start of this treatment marks the beginning of a new era of personalised medicine, and forms part of the upgrade in cancer services which are set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.”
A panel of expert clinicians decides which patients are eligible for treatment.