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Estonia Develops Personalized CAR-T Cell Therapy for Blood Cancer Patients

Cancer cells.
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The Tartu University Hospital, North Estonia Medical Centre, and Icosagen have joined forces to develop and introduce an innovative personalized cell therapy (CAR-T cell therapy) for patients in Estonia, offering hope to those with incurable blood cancers. 


The Issue: Each year, over 600 individuals in Estonia are diagnosed with blood cancer, with many succumbing within the first few years post-diagnosis. 

Dr. Ain Kaare from Tartu University Hospital explains: "Significant progress has been made in cancer treatment. However, despite rapid advancements, we can only offer long-term disease-free periods to a few blood cancer patients. This means that many still experience disease progression. The new personalized CAR-T cell therapy could potentially save up to 50% of patients with certain hematological malignancies who currently have no curative options." 

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Dr. Annett Vapper from North Estonia Medical Centre adds: "CAR-T is a groundbreaking treatment that has revolutionized the approach to malignant blood diseases worldwide, offering a chance for recovery or longer disease-free survival for many patient groups for whom other treatments have been exhausted or proved ineffective. In the future, the potential of CAR-T technology could extend beyond blood diseases, providing therapeutic options for various oncological and rheumatological conditions based on ongoing research. This is a crucial step towards personalized medicine and more effective cancer treatment. Additionally, we can modernize treatment centers, train staff, and build medical infrastructure that enables clinical trials and enhances scientific competence." 


Innovative Solution: Tanel Mahlakõiv, PhD, from Icosagen, elaborates: "CAR-T cell therapy is an innovative treatment where a patient's own immune cells (T-cells) are genetically modified to identify and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, this therapy is not yet available in Estonia due to its complexity, limited production capacity by pharmaceutical companies, and high cost. We aim to make this personalized cell therapy accessible to Estonian patients within a few years. Initially, we will focus on leukemia and lymphoma patients, followed by other types of cancer and certain autoimmune diseases." 


The Plan: The collaboration project to launch CAR-T cell therapy involves Tartu University Hospital, North Estonia Medical Centre, and Icosagen. Icosagen will develop the manufacturing processes, conduct preclinical trials, and produce therapy-grade cells meeting all quality standards. Tartu University Hospital and North Estonia Medical Centre will jointly prepare the clinical protocol and related procedures, select patients in need of treatment, collect and isolate patient cells, and conduct cell therapy. Both medical institutions will ensure treatment quality and monitor patients' post-treatment through coordinated efforts.