9.3 million KFW grant for CAR-T cell therapy

The UMCG is participating in a European study on hospital-produced CAR-T cell therapy in out-of-treatment patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The Dutch Cancer Foundation (KWF) is providing over nine million euros to conduct the study, that is led by Spanish researchers, in the Netherlands. If the therapy will be proven successful, the treatment may be reimbursed by health insurance in the Netherlands.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T-cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy in which researchers genetically modify a patient's own immune cells to better recognise the cancer. These immune cells, T cells, are modified in the lab and then administered to the patient as drugs. The patient's own immune system is then trained to eliminate the cancer cells.   

B-cell acute lymphatic leukaemia 

For patients under the age of 26 with B-cell acute lymphatic leukaemia, this treatment is already available through commercial companies. Researchers Haematology Tom van Meerten and Edwin Bremer are leading the study in the Netherlands. They are now investigating whether CAR-T cell therapy made locally in the hospital (also called Point-of-Care) is a good alternative for adult patients. Van Meerten and Bremer are collaborating with researchers at Radboudumc and several European treatment centres. In the study, patients for whom chemotherapy does not work or the cancer has recurred from all over the Netherlands will be treated in Groningen and Nijmegen. The researchers expect to start the study this summer. 

European approval 

In Spain, therapy with hospital-made CAR-T cells for patients with acute lymphatic leukaemia is already possible under certain conditions and works well. But before European patients can receive this treatment, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) must first approve the treatment. Such approval requires large studies in several countries. That is why researchers are now conducting this study in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France. If the study in all five countries shows that the therapy works well and in a similar way, there is a good chance that the therapy will be approved in Europe. This means that health insurance could reimburse this treatment for patients. 

Important step in Groningen CAR-T cell therapy 

This study is an important follow-up step in the development of CAR-T cell therapy in Groningen. Since 2020, the UMCG has been making its own CAR-T cells in collaboration with the hospital pharmacy for patients with B-cell lymphoma. Producing CAR-T cells in house has important advantages. For instance, treatment can be carried out within seven days, instead of four to six weeks: that's how long it takes a commercial party to produce CAR-T cell therapy. This is a significant time saved for seriously ill patients. In addition, in-house production results in major cost savings: treatment with home-made CAR-T cells is three times cheaper than treatment with commercial CAR T cells.   

Tom van Meerten receives Swammerdam Prize for CAR-T research 

Tom van Meerten was awarded the Swammerdam Prize yesterday at the national Haematology Days for his major contribution to CAR-T cell research in the Netherlands. The prize consists of a certificate plus 40,000 euros. The Dutch Society for Haematology awards this prize once every two years to a talented researcher.