A revolutionary cancer treatment, CAR-T cell therapy now available to children in Ireland

CAR-T cell therapy, a revolutionary cancer treatment, will now be available for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) to access in Ireland. Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) and the Department of Health (DoH) today marked the launch of this ground breaking immunotherapy treatment being available for the first time, in CHI at Crumlin.

T cells are blood cells of the immune system that protect from ‘foreign invaders’ including cancer.  Chimeric antigen receptor T cell or CAR-T therapy, harnesses the body’s own T cells and ‘installs new software’ that redirects them to more effectively target and destroy cancer. Unlike standard pharmaceuticals, it is a ‘living drug’ that can grow, expand and form memory and potentially protect the patient lifelong. To date, eligible Irish children have availed of this novel treatment under the HSE Treatment Abroad Scheme. The Department of Health’s National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 enabled the NCCP to provide funding to establish this service in Ireland, with CHI at Crumlin as the designated National Paediatric CAR-T Centre.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD welcomed the commencement of the CAR-T service in CHI, stating that “The launch of this service today means that patients will no longer have to travel to the UK to access this treatment and will, instead, have access to this novel treatment in Ireland for the first time and can remain closer to their home, families, and support networks. This development is a direct result of the unprecedented investment in cancer services over the last number of years along with clear evidence-based policy direction from my Department and strong implementation by the HSE's National Cancer Control Programme. By continuing to work together we will ensure that the goals and aims of the National Cancer Strategy are fully achieved, to the ultimate benefit of patients and their families.”

Director of the NCCP, Prof Risteárd O’Laoide said “The repatriation of this service is the culmination of more than three years of collaborative work between NCCP, CHI and the DoH and is one of the most exciting treatment developments we have seen in cancer. It is essentially a life-saving treatment for those children who have relapsed and reached the ceiling of treatment options with their ALL.”

Dr Pamela Evans, the Clinical Lead for the CAR-T service in CHI, explained how difficult it has been for parents to bring their children for treatment overseas. “We are so delighted to be able to now offer this treatment to our patients on home ground. We are indebted to our UK colleagues for delivering this therapy to our patients when we could not but the true heroes are the patients and their families who braved the unknown, traveling overseas during a global pandemic to accept the challenge of this new therapy. The delivery of this therapy in Ireland will simplify the treatment journey and have a tangible impact on children and young people and their families.”

Theresa Kenna, mum of Erin (3) who received her CAR-T therapy in London said: “We had to move to London and rent an apartment near Great Ormond Street Hospital when we travelled for Erin’s treatment. We also have two other children so the change was incredible. No-one wants to be in a position where you need this treatment for your child. But the fact that this will now be available in Ireland for people at home will make a huge difference to families.”

ALL is the most common childhood cancer, representing approximately 25% of all cancer diagnoses among children less than 15 years of age. In Ireland an average of 55 children are diagnosed with ALL every year. CAR-T cell therapy requires significant input from many teams to ensure safe and effective service delivery, including Haemato-oncology transplant teams, supported by Neurology, Intensive Care, Radiology, Pharmacy, Immunology, allied health, stem cell laboratory, quality, administration and other specialist services. 

Last updated on: 06 / 05 / 2022