CANCER a word that sends shivers down one's spine. Amidst all the advancements and revolutionization that surround us, we still fail to constrain this disease and close the lid on it. A disease so devastating, a disease with a mixed and confusing aetiology, a disease that has grasped the globe with its malicious tentacles, has only left mankind choking till their last breath. To top it all, getting diagnosed at the later stages just makes it worse with no effective cure and low success rates with most standard treatment modalities.
The global cancer burden has only increased year after year. According to the most recent estimates, new cancer diagnoses in the country reached nearly 1.6 million in 2023, up from about 980,000 in 2010. And 800,000 people are estimated to die from cancer each year. Such is the magnitude of this malignancy.
A ray of hope has finally emerged for those on their deathbeds who have been diagnosed with blood cancer. When all else fails, when every standard treatment option proves to be of no benefit, a promising therapy like this can be a game-changer that the world was looking towards. CAR-T Cell Therapy which stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, has its roots in Western countries where it has gone through various stages of clinical trials and emerged victorious. Though life-saving and effective, it was only a privilege for those with deep pockets. Due to this, India lagged behind in establishing this therapy for our country owing to the skyrocketing price tag it came with.
It is indeed a matter of great pride to announce that this therapy is now available in India at a much more affordable cost. The brilliant brains of our country have managed to cut down the cost from a whopping 4 crore therapy to just 40 lakhs. The years of trials, extensive research and studies have borne fruit.
What exactly is CAR-T T-cell therapy?
Our body contains a type of immune cell called T-lymphocytes that fight against foreign intruders and infections. CAR T- Cell Therapy is hence a type of immunotherapy in which these T cells are taken out from a patient's body and made stronger and competent enough to fight the most dangerous of cells, the cancer cells.
The T cells extracted from one’s blood are genetically engineered by attaching a gene for a unique receptor that binds to a particular protein present in cancerous cells. This gene is attached to the T cell that is then multiplied in laboratory conditions on a large scale and these newly developed “CARs” are infused back into the patient's blood. The patient's immune system is super-activated to fight malignant cells and kill them.
Which types of Cancer does it cure?
Currently, the trials have been successful for blood malignancies common in children like Leukemia, Lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma. However, extensive research and trials are being conducted to extend the benefits of this therapy for treating solid tumour conditions as well.
Is it available in India and for how much?
In February, World Cancer Month, with the numerous efforts of the best of our country's doctors and researchers, this therapy is not only available now in India but also very affordable. India has successfully managed to cut down its cost by a whopping 87.5%. It is now available in India at around $ 50,000 in contrast to its cost abroad which is $400,000. A patient who is also an eminent gastroenterologist has been successfully cured and is cancer-free with the help of this indigenous CAR T-Cell Therapy. Efforts are being made by ImmunoACT and Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai for the development of this therapy.
Can this therapy be made to serve as a first line of treatment for cancer?
Currently, it is being used as a last-resort treatment option for Blood Cancers. There also exists a set of conditions that need to be met to be approved for this therapy. Therefore, all patients are still first treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. However, with the pace at which we have made such progress as a nation in the development and establishment of this therapy, it is safe to say that there is so much more potential to uncover. We might be looking towards a future, one in which this therapy might become a successful first-line treatment with low remission and high success rates.
Lastly, as the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. We need to be mindful of our lifestyle choices, understand the gravity of this disease and do everything in our power to stay away from this disease. Consult our Gytree Experts in Lifestyle for building a regular routine with personalised guidance.