The US has approved the first treatment to redesign a patient's own immune system so it attacks cancer. Novartis is charging $475,000 (£367,000) for the "living drug" therapy, which leaves 83% of people free of a type of blood cancer.
The living drug is tailor-made to each patient, unlike conventional therapies such as surgery or chemotherapy. It is called CAR-T and is made by extracting white blood cells from the patient's blood. The cells are then genetically reprogrammed to seek out and kill cancer.
The cancer-killers are then put back inside the patient and once they find their target they multiply, reports BBC. It is the first T-cell therapy that uses chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology to be approved by the USFDA.
The FDA describes the new product as a cell-based gene therapy, and more specifically as a genetically modified autologous T-cell immunotherapy, prepared individually for each patient.
T cell are also known as T lymphocytes. The "T" stands for "thymus" -- the organ in which these cells mature. It is a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body's immune response to specific pathogens.
The T cells are like soldiers who search out and destroy the targeted invaders. Immature T cells (termed T-stem cells) migrate to the thymus gland in the neck, where they mature and differentiate into various types of mature T cells and become active in the immune system, according to medicinenet.com.
In February last year, Sciencealert.com wrote that an international team of researchers saw "extraordinary" results using patients' own immune cells to fight cancer. Fiona MacDonald wrote for the website that The new T-cell treatment is a type of immunotherapy, and it involves taking a patient's own immune cells - specifically, white blood cells called T-cells - and reprogramming them to attack tumours.
It's sort of like creating a tailor-made vaccine response against cancer. Scientists have been working on immunotherapy for decades, but have only recently started testing this new T-cell therapy in humans. Due to the experimental nature of the research, for now, the trials have been limited to patients who are no longer responding to other treatments, and only have a few months to live.