Laboratory Technologists play a pivotal role in new CAR T-cell therapy in Alberta

May 19, 2021

To seek and destroy. No, it’s not a teaser for a new Star Wars movie, it’s even better. It’s what a revolutionary new therapy for patients with various types of blood cancer like leukemia, will do for Albertans, now that it’s available right here at home. Several Calgary patients have already received the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy using a commercial drug treatment and one patient received the therapy as part of a clinical trial of a made-in-Alberta CAR T-cell therapy currently underway in Edmonton.

Prior to the clinical trial and a commercial drug being available in Alberta, CAR T-cell therapy required patients to wait several weeks to receive treatment because the process required them to travel out of province to have their cancer cells frozen, thawed, re-engineered with cancer fighting cells and reinfused back into their bodies.

Now, lab technologists at Alberta Precision Laboratories are working to manufacture these ‘smart cells’ right here in Alberta, which would eliminate the need for patients to leave the province. Most patients receive only one infusion because of the cells ability to multiply and continue fighting cancer cells.

“Our amazing staff in the Cellular Therapy Lab here in Alberta ensures the CAR-T cells are safe for thaw and infusion at bedside of the patient,” says Dr. Nicole Prokopishyn, Director, Cellular Therapy Lab, APL. “Standard of Care treatment with commercial products is currently underway in Calgary and a clinical trial with Made-in-Alberta cells is currently underway in Edmonton, offering treatment to Albertans, including some children. This summer, once the trial opens in Calgary, we hope to be able to treat even more patients,” adds Nicole.

CAR T-cell therapy trials have demonstrated durable remissions and potential cures in about 50 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of children and young adults.

Thanks to a $15 million donation from Alberta’s government and the Alberta Cancer Foundation, it is expected about 150 Albertans may be eligible to receive this treatment over the next three years.

Alberta joins Ontario and Quebec in the ability to manufacture CAR T-cells without transporting samples out of province or country.