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From palliative care to complete remission, Lauren says world-leading cancer therapy saved her life

Email Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to be home of 'the next great wave in treatment' By Zalika Rizmal

Updated March 25, 2019 15:01:47

External Link: What is CAR T-cell therapy? Related Story: 'Exciting' cancer breakthrough uses children's own blood cells to attack leukemia Map: Melbourne 3000

A new form of cancer treatment that uses cell therapy to attack the disease will become available in Australia, after the Federal Government announced $80 million towards a facility in Melbourne.

Key points:

  • Health Minister Greg Hunt said the $105 million centre would be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere
  • It will offer CAR T-cell therapy, which strengthens the immune system to attack some forms of cancer
  • The treatment was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in December last year

The $105 million treatment centre will be housed at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and will offer CAR T-cell therapy, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

The treatment involves removing some of a patient's immune system cells so they can be re-engineered in a lab, before they are reinserted to attack cancer cells.

"Australia will now be one of the world's leading centres for not just treatment but for manufacturing of CAR T-cell therapy, which is the next great wave in cancer treatment for people with blood cancers and potentially other type of cancers," Mr Hunt said.

"This is the first such facility not just in Australia, not just in the southern hemisphere but indeed throughout the entire Asian region."

Therapy 'will be available to all Australians'

CAR T-cell therapy treatment was only approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in December last year, at a cost of $598,000 per patient.

Simon Harrison, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre's lead haematologist for myeloma, said the centre had already started using CAR T-cell therapy to treat patients in clinical trials.

He said a decision from the independent Medical Services Advisory Committee on public funding of the therapy was expected within weeks.

Mr Hunt said if funding was approved the therapy would be available to patients for "effectively nothing or maybe a very minor payment"

"Something which nobody could afford, everybody will be able to afford," he said.

"This will not just help patients in Victoria, it will help patients all around Australia and hopefully patients right throughout the world," Mr Hunt said.

Lauren Krelsham was the first Australian to receive CAR T-cell therapy when she was being treated for acute lymphoid leukaemia at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital in 2016.

Ms Krelsham, an actor, said the treatment gave her new hope after she was placed in palliative care about four years ago.

"When CAR T-cell therapy came along I knew I had a chance to live again," she said.

"CAR T-cell therapy has basically saved my life."

Lauren Krelsham was the first Australian to receive the new therapy during treatment for acute lymphoid leukaemia. Video: Lauren Krelsham was the first Australian to receive the new therapy during treatment for acute lymphoid leukaemia. (ABC News)

She is now in complete remission, but continues to be treated with intravenous immunoglobin each month to strengthen her immune system to fight infections.

The announcement is part of a $500 million health and medical research package planned for Victoria in the Federal Budget.

"[The package is] about ensuring that Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, is the global medical research hub for cancer and many rare diseases," Mr Hunt said.

The package also includes $30 million for new device and treatment research at St Vincent's Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, and $16 million for the mental health sector.

Another $40 million was also announced for new paediatric emergency departments at the Geelong, Maroondah, Frankston and Casey hospitals.

Topics: health, cancer, diseases-and-disorders, healthcare-facilities, health-policy, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted March 25, 2019 10:12:02

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