CancerCare Manitoba to offer life-saving therapy in spring
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A specialized cancer treatment previously only available outside the province will be offered here in the spring thanks to a $6.6 million provincial government investment, CancerCare Manitoba announced Monday.
The chimeric antigen receptor T-cell cancer therapy program is for patients with blood or lymphatic cancers such as lymphoma, and it can be life-saving for eligible patients whose cancer hasn’t responded well to traditional treatments including chemotherapy and radiation.
About six to eight Manitobans per year travel out of province to receive the treatment, but the need is growing and the number of patients could double within a year or so, CancerCare doctors and researchers said during a news conference Monday.
Offering the treatment locally will be a “huge advantage” to Manitobans, said CancerCare president and CEO Dr. Sri Navaratnam. The CancerCare clinical team is ready to implement the treatment, she said, saying “we were waiting for this day.”
Navaratnam said it’s expected T-cell therapy will be used to treat other diseases in the future, and Manitoba needs to get ready.
“So, if we are not ready for it, we will be spending so much money,” she said, explaining that not only will patients continue to be inconvenienced by being sent out of province, “but even financially, we will be losing as Manitobans.”
The government spends about $2.2 million in operational costs sending patients out of province for the treatment, said Health Minister Audrey Gordon, whose sister died of lymphoma. Children who need T-cell therapy currently have to travel to Toronto.
Offering it in Manitoba through a partnership between CancerCare, Shared Health and the Health Sciences Centre will mean patients can get treatment closer to home and Manitoba will be supporting local research, Gordon said, adding she had been discussing the issue with Navaratnam since she was appointed health minister.
“We want to ensure that we are providing care here in Manitoba and building the capacity right here in our province,” Gordon said.
The treatment involves a transplant of cancer patients’ own immune cells. The T-cells are modified to better attack cancer cells, and then they’re injected back into the patient’s body. Research is ongoing to make the practice safer for patients and reduce toxicity risks associated with the transplant.
Currently, about one or two of the Manitoba patients referred out of province for treatment each year are children.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.