THE science celebrates another achievement in Brazil: a 100% national technology, which promises to revolutionize the treatment against blood cancer in the country. A program launched this week in São Paulo expects to see 300 patients a year.
Medical student Lucas Visconti faced leukemia for five years. Chemotherapy and even bone marrow transplantation. But the disease returned.
But hope came when he was accepted in a research with the most modern treatment for blood cancer, the cell therapy own immune system, manipulated and reinforced to fight the disease.
It was a win. After 26 days in the hospital, Lucas came out with the disease under control.
“Extremely happy, extremely grateful to have been able to receive such an innovative and effective treatment, right?”, he says, who plays volleyball.
This type of therapy, performed with modified T lymphocytes, was already approved five years ago in the USA. Then in Europe, China, Australia and Canada.
American Emily turned 17 in May. At age 7, she was the first child in the world to receive this treatment. Ten years have passed, and she and her father never tire of telling the story.
“It was my daughter’s rebirth,” says Tom, Emily’s father.
The Doctor. Stephen Grupp thought the girl would not resist. These were the first tests, and the doctors still didn’t know how to control the reactions. After three weeks, it worked. Emily is cured. Therapy is now much safer and is already used around the world. Emily’s father created a foundation to fight for everyone’s access to treatment. In the US, therapy is covered by health insurance.
In São Paulo, after almost 20 years of research done with public money, Brazilian scientists are already able to produce the treatment from modified T cells. And for a much lower price than the treatment done abroad.
The Ribeirão Preto blood center and the USP medical schools joined forces with the Butantã Institute to carry out treatments in the country. Before, it is necessary to go through the clinical testing phase, which depends on Anvisa approval.
Director of Butantan, hematologist Dimas Covas says that the research process will be fully automated, done by machines imported from Germany. The cost per treatment is around R$ 100 thousand per patient. It’s still expensive, but it only represents 2% of an imported treatment.
“In the US, cell production is around US$ 400,000, around R$ 2 million. We created our own technology that will give us independence and, soon, we will make it available to the public, in the SUS. We hope that this will happen during the next year”, says Dimas Covas.
The Albert Einstein hospital, in SP, is also in the final phase of Anvisa’s authorization process for clinical trials.
So far, modified T cells have only been approved for some very advanced forms of lymphomas, acute leukemias and multiple myeloma. THE new therapy, applied only to very severe patients, achieves complete remission rates between 80 and 90%. And the doctors only talk about cure after five years without the disease.
How does the treatment work?
T cells, from the body’s defense system, are taken from the patient. In a laboratory, they are given a piece of DNA with new genetic information.. This modification makes the cell produce a molecule called by scientists as the Chimeric Antigen Receptor. Or CAR, in its acronym in English.
The modified T cell starts to recognize cancer cells. It’s as if the patient’s defenses were given a more efficient laser sight. When this cell is returned to the person’s body, it multiplies and fights cancer much more strongly and efficiently.. That’s why, in the US, scientists call this process “living medicine”.
THE reaction is very strongand the treatment has to be done in hospitals that specialize in controlling the inflammation caused by this reinforced fight against cancer.
Professor Rosângela faced the treatment and participated in the testing phase of the drug imported from the USA, in the research of the doctor Marcos Salvino.
“I felt weak and I didn’t have control of my body. And fever, I had a fever every day… My body started to react”, says she, who in 20 days had already overcome the treatment and the disease.
“The revolution is in the treatment model, to get rid of that chemotherapy thing that we know: hair falling out, nausea. It’s the body cell attacking. But the other revolution is the results, right? The effectiveness rates of these therapies are very high and well above what we had until then,” says the doctor.
For the time being without a national option, the imported drug is expensive. There are already lawsuits in court asking the SUS to cover the treatment. So far, no decision. Medical plans, which usually cover other cancer procedures, are still debating whether to cover therapy.
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