Cancer patients affected by certain advanced leukemias and lymphomas now have better access to Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell (CAR-T) therapy closer to home, as the therapy becomes available in the province.

This is a partnership between the Province and BC Cancer, Provincial Laboratory Medicine Services, Vancouver General Hospital and BC Children’s Hospital.

“Cancer touches the lives of so many people in British Columbia,” said Premier David Eby. “Our goal is to lead the country with better and faster ways to prevent, detect and treat cancers so we can stop this disease in its tracks. That’s why, starting now, we are supporting eligible cancer patients and their families who are facing the most devastating cancer threats by providing CAR-T therapy right here in British Columbia.”

Intake and patient assessment began in January 2024 with the first treatment starting in March 2024. During initial implementation, 20 adults will be treated at Vancouver General Hospital and an estimated five children/youth will be treated at BC Children’s Hospital, per year.

“This is an important milestone in our continuing efforts to enhance treatment options and expand access to life saving cancer care services for people living in B.C.,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “We know that the incidence of cancer is increasing as our population ages and grows at unprecedent rates. That is why we are bolstering our resources and infrastructure to benefit and empower patients and health-care professionals with the support they need in our fight against cancer.”

The Province continues to deliver on more actions under B.C.’s 10-year Cancer Care Action Plan, announced in 2023, by improving access to cervical cancer screening, HPV vaccines, radiation therapy and specialized cancer care for people.

“By improving access to CAR T-cell therapy, we’re bringing this new life-saving treatment closer to home for patients with some advanced blood cancers who are no longer responding to conventional treatments,” said Dr. Kim Chi, executive vice-president and chief medical officer, BC Cancer. “This announcement and these new investments will help us expand and improve specialized treatments and diagnostics and make a meaningful difference in the lives of people with cancer and those who love them.”

Through Budget 2024, the Province invests $270 million over the next three years to provide people with better access to oncologists and specialized cancer diagnostics and treatments, including PET-CT scans, genomic testing, precision radiation therapy, new targeted anti-cancer drugs and specialized immunotherapy. The funding will also support the elimination of cervical cancer in B.C., improving in-province access to radiation and systemic (chemo) therapies, increasing support for and collaboration with primary-care providers and recruiting additional cancer-care positions.

Budget 2024 also provides funding for capital projects to further support B.C.’s 10-Year Cancer Action Plan, including cancer centres in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Burnaby and Surrey, and other cancer initiatives.

This builds on Budget 2023 that provided $270 million over three years for cancer care as part of government’s $440-million initial investment in B.C.’s 10-Year Cancer Action Plan.

In 2022, an expected 32,170 people were diagnosed with cancer and more than 11,000 died because of cancer. For 2023, the expected number would be 33,105.

The 10-year cancer-care action plan is supported by B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy, which supports patients by ensuring they get the health services they need and are cared for by a healthy workforce. This strategy focuses on 70 key actions to recruit, train and retain health-care workers in B.C., while redesigning the health-care system to foster workplace satisfaction and innovation.

Quotes:

Sarah Roth, president and CEO, BC Cancer Foundation –

“Today’s announcement is an example of the power of philanthropy to transform cancer care. BC Cancer’s CAR-T research program was the first of its kind in Canada and founded 100% through BC Cancer Foundation donor funding. Providing this therapy as standard of care marks the success of this research and will have a tremendous impact on British Columbians in need of the cutting-edge therapy.”

Malcolm Berry, president and CEO, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation –

“Today’s announcement marks an important step forward in the availability of treatment within B.C. for the one in five kids with aggressive cancers who relapse. We recognize the Michael Cuccione Foundation’s investment in the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC Children’s Hospital catalyzed the infrastructure for the delivery of these therapies. We celebrate this milestone as we work together to pursue even greater possibilities for children’s health in our province.”

Gloria Cuccione, executive director, Michael Cuccione Foundation –

“CAR T-cell therapy has changed the lives of patients at BC Children’s Hospital and now there will be increased access for children facing tough-to-treat cancers across the province. Since 2018, our support has made clinical trials a reality for patients and their families. This announcement reaffirms our mission to support novel research, creative thinking and the quest for groundbreaking discoveries that will help continue to help patients with cancers today and in the future.”

Dr. Kevin Song, medical director, Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Program of British Columbia, and director, Hematology Research Program, Vancouver General Hospital 

“CAR-T is transformational treatment for cancer care, providing specialized cellular therapy for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is an important milestone that will allow patients to receive the best care available at Vancouver General Hospital.”

Abraham and Mary-Jill Asrat, parents of a pediatric CAR-T patient –

“Access to CAR-T was life-saving for our eight-year-old son, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two. It has given him back his childhood – school, sports, play dates and time with family. We are thrilled that this innovative therapy will now be an option available to other children facing a similar journey and that it will bring hope to families from across B.C.”

Adrian Chantler, cancer patient who received CAR T-cell therapy in Vancouver through clinical trials 

“I had a particularly obstinate cancer. A few weeks after treatment I started feeling better and today, after just a few months, I’m essentially back to normal. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to access CAR T-cell therapy without having to travel and with the support of my wife and family nearby.”