CAR-T: state-of-the-art cancer treatment to advance in Brazil

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The latest generation of cancer treatments involves personalized therapies, such as CAR-T, developed and produced in Brazil, on an experimental basis. In this scenario, the expectation is that the procedure will be offered, by 2025, to 300 people per year in the Unified Health System (SUS).

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Brazilian research using CAR-T is led by the Blood Center of Ribeirão Preto, at the University of São Paulo (USP), and by the Butantan Institute. At the moment, only 10 patients with cancer have undergone treatment, and six are free of the disease. This is an encouraging number, as the therapy is only available to people who have not responded to standard cancer treatments.

“It’s still too early for us to call it a cure, but the responses are very good, because this patient’s profile has an estimated survival of just a few weeks or months”, says Diego Villa Clé, director of clinical pathology at Hospital das Clínicas de Ribeirão, from USP, for the newspaper O Globo.

How does CAR-T therapy work?

It is worth explaining that the technology is tested, for the time being, against leukemia (cancer in the blood) and lymphoma (cancer in the lymphatic system). In these cases, the team takes blood samples from the patients and separates the white blood cells — to be more specific, they select the T lymphocytes.

These cells are then genetically modified and “learn” to fight the specific cancer present in the person. In the laboratory, they still undergo quality control, which lasts about 45 days. If released, the individual receives a blood transfusion with these turbocharged cells, also called CAR-T.

How is the use of CAR-T advancing in Brazil against cancer?

At the end of last year, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) authorized the expansion of the production capacity of CAR-T cells used in the treatment of cancer. Until then, production was allowed only on an experimental scale.

As a result, starting in May of this year, scientists will recruit 75 volunteers diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma in an advanced stage. This clinical trial will select patients in four research centers in the state of São Paulo:

  • Hospital das Clínicas de São Paulo, from USP;
  • Hospital das Clínicas de Ribeirão Preto, from USP;
  • Hospital das Clínicas de Campinas, from Unicamp;
  • Hospital Beneficência Portuguesa in São Paulo (capital).

If the test results are positive and pass Anvisa’s Reviews, in 2024, CAR-T therapy, produced in Brazil, may be offered on a regular basis and with expanded service capacity.

Source: Butantan Institute and O Globo