The government of São Paulo, Instituto Butantan, the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Ribeirão Preto Blood Center launched this Tuesday (14) a cell therapy program specialized in cancer treatment that uses cells from the patients' own immune system to fight the disease, a technology known as CAR-T Cell. Considered highly innovative for enabling the cure or remission of lymphomas and leukemia, the therapy is based on modified cells produced in the Cell Therapy Center (Nucel), located in São Paulo (SP), and in the Advanced Therapy Center (Nutera), located in Ribeirão Preto (SP).
Together, these centers will be able to produce cells that can serve up to 300 patients per year, with encouraging results, explained the president of Instituto Butantan, Dimas Covas, when launching the program.
“We are talking about the possibility of curing, with low toxicity, some of these diseases. This is of great importance and the treatment of tomorrow. This portfolio will expand to a large number of cancers”, said the hematologist, one of the leaders of the study.
The initiative is the result of a partnership with the School of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP), the School of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto (FMRP-USP) and the Ribeirão Preto Blood Center.
The launch was attended by the governor of the state of São Paulo, Rodrigo Garcia, the secretary of Science, Research and Development in Health of the state of São Paulo, David Uip, the rector of USP, Carlos Alberto Carlotti, among other authorities.
For the governor of São Paulo, this therapy might become a reference in the fight against cancer and means the victory of science. “[Building the centers] is a way of showing that science beats the disease, and São Paulo proves that once again. These centers at the University of São Paulo and in Ribeirão Preto will be a reference in the production of cell therapy that produces concrete results in blood cancer treatment”, he stressed.
CAR-T cell therapy (acronym for chimeric antigen receptor) is already under development at the FMRP-USP Center for Cell-based Therapy. The first volunteer, who received the experimental treatment two years ago, achieved complete remission of an end-stage lymphoma. Other patients who opted for the treatment, which for them is “similar to a transfusion,” also experienced remission, Dimas explained.
“The therapy consists of a genetically modified body defense cell that starts fighting cancer. We modify a patient's own cell and turn that cell into a weapon against the cancer they have. That's why there is a high percentage of cure,” said the president of Instituto Butantan.
“From a treatment point of view, it is an infusion. The patient receives the cells as if it were a transfusion and, from this moment on, the cells begin to proliferate and fight the cancer. Hospitalization is very brief. If there are no complications in the treatment, they are discharged in a month and, when that happens, the disease is usually under control”, detailed the hematologist.
Affordable treatment for all
For the São Paulo State Secretary of Science, Research and Development in Health, David Uip, the ultimate goal is to make the treatment affordable to as many cancer patients as possible.“This treatment is not only innovative, but over time it will also become accessible. And that is what we aim for: the possibility for all Brazilians without exception to have access to this treatment.”
A goal highlighted by the dean of USP, Carlos Gilberto Carlotti, who sees scaling the therapy to other places in Brazil as a challenge. “This treatment has already been carried out. We have seven patients treated and our challenge now is to turn this into an industrial production so that all of Brazil, so that every Brazilian patient can benefit from this methodology,” he said.