Cancer researchers at Queen’s Health Sciences discuss affordability of medical treatments

Panel discussion explores research and clinical trials 

Researchers are continuing to integrate loved ones in the patient care model.
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Queen’s Health Sciences (QHS) hosted a panel discussion about cancer research and clinical trials in which QHS is involved. The special virtual panel on Nov. 22 was part of #TheNext25 campaign, which explores the reimagination of research, patient care, and health sciences education. Jane Philpott, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, moderated the event.
 
Dr. Jacqueline Galica, a member of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, Dr. Bishal Gyawali, associate professor (Medical Oncology and Public Health Sciences), and Dr. Annette Hay, the chair of the Division of Hematology, sat on the panel.
 
The panelists discussed potential cancer treatments highlighted in their research while improving patient outcomes and experiences. 
 
When discussing cancer research, Galica said putting patients and families first, regardless of what cancer discipline researchers are involved in, is paramount. She also emphasized the importance of working with patients, families, caregivers, and survivors to understand what meaningful care looks like.
 
“I think there could be something in the co-creation that’s better than what any individual researcher or person with lived experience can ever imagine on their own,” Galica said at the event. 
 
Hay delved deeper into the treatments currently researched and tested at QHS. She explained how CAR-T cell therapy—an improved treatment for people with certain types of leukemia and lymphoma is—has cured some patients who have tried chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and radiation, with no successful outcomes. 
 
Her description of the CAR-T cell therapy process began with taking blood cells from a patient, specifically B lymphocytes—these are white blood cells produced from stem cells in bone marrow. 
 
The cells are taken after collection to facilities in the United States where they are engineered to recognize cancer. Billions of cells are created and flown back to the patient, where they’re reinfused in the body. She describes it as “re-educating a patient’s immune system.” 
 
Despite the CAR-T cell treatment being highly promising, Hay and Gyawali see challenges in the affordability and accessibility of the treatment.
 
“It comes down to how you define affordability—who’s paying and how big is their pocket,” Hay said at the panel.
 
CAR-T cell therapy is available in Canada for those who need it. In the US, the treatment costs $400,000 according to Hay. She believes if treatment is valuable in saving a life, it’s a necessary investment, regardless of the price tag. 
 
Hay said using a one-time treatment as a functional cure is game changing globally, as opposed to ten years of ongoing treatment.
 
From his experience working in Nepal as an oncologist, Gyawali said CAR-T cell therapy is effective, but there’s a long way to go before it becomes a reality in countries with developing health care infrastructure. 
 
He said in one study, less than five per cent of patients with a type of breast cancer were accessing necessary drugs in India.
 
Gyawali said in Nepal, some of his patients were selling their homes to access life-saving ovarian cancer drugs. He’s hopeful there are ways to make treatment affordable for all, and he hopes to see new treatments improve people’s quality of life and produce fewer side effects. 
 

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