Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

CAR T-cell therapy trials begin in Mumbai

- Priyanka Sahoo


MUMBAI: The clinical trial of an indigenous­ly developed CAR T-cell therapy for blood cancer treatment has begun at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre, said researcher­s of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), who have developed this gene therapy.

CAR T-cells (chimeric antigen receptor T-cells) are cells that are geneticall­y engineered to produce an artificial T-cell receptor, which is widely used in developed nations for immunother­apy during cancer treatment. But the technology is not available in India yet.

A team of researcher­s from the bioscience and bioenginee­ring department of IIT-B, led by professor Rahul Purwar, have now designed and developed the first indigenous CAR T-cell therapy with clinical inputs from Dr Gaurav Narula, professor of paediatric oncology and health sciences at Tata Memorial Centre, and his team. The therapy targets leukaemia and lymphoma, and the team has applied for national and internatio­nal patents for the research.

The design developed by IIT-B uses lentiviral technology. In gene therapy, this is a method of inserting, modifying, or deleting genes in organisms using lentivirus – a family of viruses responsibl­e for diseases such as AIDS (acquired immunodefi­ciency syndrome).

“The first phase of clinical trials has kicked off during which the safety aspect of the drug will be studied. This is a huge first step for India in terms of being self-reliant in cancer treatment,” said Purwar.

Dr Narula said the trials have kicked off at the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer the research and developmen­t wing of Tata Memorial Centre. “More details will be revealed soon,” he added.

Last June, HT reported that the Centre’s National Biopharma Mission (Nbm)-biotechnol­ogy Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) had approved ₹18.96 crore to the team for conducting the first and second phase clinical trials on humans. BIRAC had said that if the trial succeeds, it will benefit patients who are at present forced to opt for palliative care.

IIT-B director Subhasis Chaudhuri said this was a significan­t feat. “We at IIT-B are delighted that our scientists along with Tata hospital have come out with the most sophistica­ted therapy in cancer treatment. If the trials are successful, it may save millions of lives by making the treatment available in India at an affordable cost,” said Chaudhuri.

“One of the reasons for the therapy’s unavailabi­lity in India is that it is exorbitant­ly expensive. Pharmaceut­ical firms don’t see a market for such expensive treatment in India,” said Purwar.

Each of the two CAR-T products approved by the United States of America – Kymriah and Yescarta – could cost ₹5 crore per patient and go up to ₹10 crore, including hospital expenses. The Indian team is working on reducing this cost down to ₹20 lakh. “A large part of the manufactur­ing cost goes towards skilled labour. While we are at an initial stage, we will try to bring the costs significan­tly down,” said Purwar.

While existing treatment works towards increasing the life of patients by a few years or months, CAR-T technology holds the promise of curing certain types of cancers. Unlike chemothera­py, this drug is administer­ed only once to the patient. “Current treatment strategies, such as chemothera­py, are aimed at promoting life by a few months or years. They are not intended to cure cancer. The CAR-T cells have been fairly successful in curing cancers in some developed nations,” said Purwar.

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