Date published: 
12 October 2018
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GEORGIE GARDNER:

Well a revolutionary new treatment that has the potential to cure leukaemia might soon be available in Australia’s public hospitals. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now from Adelaide.

Minister, good morning to you. This is really exciting, positive news. Just explain how this treatment works, if you could.

GREG HUNT:

So what’s called CAR-T therapy is about - instead of a medicine that goes into the body, it takes the T cells out of the body, it then supercharges them, so as they’re more capable of fighting back against the cancer. So it uses the body’s own immune system. They’re placed back in the body, and the work coming out of America is showing that in some of the childhood leukaemias, in particular, acute lymphoblastic, potentially in lymphomas and potentially further down the track in some of the melanomas, this can actually cure. So it’s a single treatment.

We have asked our medical authorities to expedite the assessment. They’ll make an assessment as to whether it’s safe and whether it works, but the news coming out of America is very, very positive, and today, we’re asking all of the states and territories to work with the Australian Government in bringing this forward as soon as possible, subject to the medical assessments.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

We’re obviously always very cautious not to overstate these things, but are you suggesting this potentially could be a cure for all patients of leukaemia?

GREG HUNT:

I think I’d be very cautious about saying it would be a cure for all. The early signs are that it can be a cure for some. I’ve met one young Australian man whom the Australian Government paid for to go to the United States. He was part of the early trials. He came back, and for all intents and purposes he’s effectively cancer-free. And his was a last roll of the dice, a beautiful young man Joey that I’ve met, and he has a whole bright future ahead of him.

So, what this does, is it gives new hope for more patients. It won’t happen overnight for everybody, but we want to bring it to Australia as quickly as possible, subject to the medical authorities, to have it worked through with all of the states, so as patients around Australia with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, in particular young patients, can have this access, can have this treatment, and potentially, a lot of lives can be saved.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

Yeah, that is such encouraging news, isn’t it? Obviously accessing these sort of drugs can come at an enormous expense for patients. How much will it cost?

GREG HUNT:

Oh look, this could cost up to $500,000 a treatment. So, obviously, it’s the sort of thing that only a government could pay for. But a one-off $500,000 treatment as opposed to a medicine which might cost up to $250,000 a year, but for 10 years or more, is a very, very good investment. It’s the right economic thing to do, but above all else, it’s the right human thing to do. And to get these outcomes, I think this is the start of a wonderful new world of treatment.

It’s building on what are called the immunotherapies, for which the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded this year. And it’s taking that work, but then taking it to the point of not just a multi-year course of treatment, but a once-off, once-only treatment. And I think we’re seeing the future of cancer treatment, and the future of medicine, in this CAR-T therapy.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

And how soon might patients here be able to access it?

GREG HUNT:

We think that we’ll get a decision in late November from the medical authorities. We could have the first treatments in the next couple of years, because it is about bringing a very, very major medical process to Australia where the creators would set up in Australia as the Southern Hemisphere capital. But we’ll work with them to encourage them to come as soon as we possibly can.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

Alright. And you’re there in Adelaide to encourage all the state’s public hospitals to get onboard. Minister, we appreciate your time this morning. It’s really encouraging news. Thank you very much.

GREG HUNT:

Pleasure.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I reckon he’s doing a good job, Greg Hunt. There’s been a couple of really big announcements, from the federal level, and any of those barriers they can bring down, imagine how anxious families are out there for this kind of treatment to happen.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

Indeed.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

And the quicker they can do it, the better.

GEORGIE GARDNER:

It’s wonderful.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yep.

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