Sask. is now offering a “revolutionary” treatment for patients with certain types of cancer
Adult cancer patients in Saskatchewan with certain blood cancers and lymphoma can now receive what it calls “revolutionary” and “life-saving” treatment.
Chimeric antigen receptor T cell or CAR-T therapy is now available in Saskatoon.
The provincial government initially allocated US$2.1 million to set up the immunotherapy program and will spend US$6.7 million per year to operate and cover patient costs.
On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency made the announcement along with the Saskatchewan Board of Health and Secretary of Health Paul Merriman in Saskatoon.
Gary Carriere spoke at the event. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in March 2020 and received CAR-T therapy in Montreal last fall.
“It’s four months from then. I’m already doing things I haven’t been able to do for three years. I can’t wait to get out until summer.”
Carriere underwent chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant before his cancer returned in 2021. He was able to get CAR T.
“I’m 64 years old, one good thing about the CAR T is that I left the house gray and came home with dark hair,” said Carriere, taking off his cap to laughter from the audience. “My wife is jealous.”
Carriere is now cancer free.
He said he’s pleased that Saskatchewan is offering the treatment that will help patients avoid having to leave the province and be cared for on their own.
“I speak from the heart because it’s not easy to travel out of the provinces, especially when you’re fighting for your life.”
He called being alone in a Montreal hospital “lonely and isolating.”
CAR T a “last chance”, says the cancer doctor
Carriere’s physician in Saskatoon is Saskatchewan Cancer Agency hematologist Dr. Mark Bosch.
Bosch called the Saskatchewan treatment “a momentous day” for the province.
“This new therapy option offers hope to some patients who are not responding to existing treatments or who have already exhausted all other conventional treatment options available to them,” said Bosch.
He called CAR-T therapy “revolutionary” and said it “is considered the most promising treatment for blood cancer in decades.”
Bosch said the treatment consists of taking the patient’s immune cells and manipulating them so they can identify and attack the cancer.
He said the patient’s immune cells would be collected in Saskatoon and sent to a laboratory in the United States, where they would be propagated and modified. The cells are then shipped back to Saskatoon to be infused into the patient.
Bosch said that when the engineered cells are introduced into the patient and come into contact with the cancer cells, “they will immediately destroy them throughout the patient’s body.”
“Before CAR T, this patient population would be considered palliative with a limited life expectancy. CAR T is a last chance, the last hope for a cure.”
Bosch said the treatment won’t work for all patients, “but it’s the beginning of a new era in medicine, a world of immunology where living cells can cure cancer, and we’ve only scratched the surface.” We will now be able to participate in that future right here in Saskatchewan.”