Experimental Treatment in Spain Puts 18 Cancer Patients in Complete Remission

18 out of 30 Spanish patients with incurable blood cancer are in complete remission, and a few more have seen the cancer’s progression stopped in its tracks, thanks to a new and much cheaper treatment option.

Using a patient’s own white blood cells, doctors reprogramed them to better identify and attack the cancerous cells which cause multiple myeloma.

The treatment essentially saved the lives of the 18 patients, all of whom had earlier stage treatments like bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy fail, after which the survival rate becomes “very, very low,” according to the Spanish doctor leading the procedure.

That doctor was hematologist Carlos Fernández de Larrea, who announced the good news on Friday.

“Even though it is an incurable disease, achieving complete remission has a significant impact on patient prognosis. It is directly linked to greater survival,” Fernández de Larrea told El Pais.

Multiple Myeloma is the incurable second-most common blood cancer, and it begins in the bone marrow where immature blood cells mutate into cancerous forms of white blood cells called plasma cells.

The treatment is called ARI-0002h, and it’s part of a new family of cancer-fighters called CAR-T, which stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cells, but holds the honor of the first such European treatment to receive approval for use by a regulatory agency.

Developed at the state run hospital in Barcelona, CAR-T is estimated to cost €90,000 ($102,000), about a third of the cost from similar CAR-T options coming out of companies Bristol Meyers Squibb and Janssen.

As well as demonstrating a 60% remission rate, 75% of the 30 patients showed no progression of the disease one full year after.