We face a precipice in curing cancer, but acting now can save lives, writes Neil Mitchell (2023)

This started out as a straightforward article, stating the facts, and what follows is more or less that.

But first allow yourself a little self-indulgence, perhaps earned after decades as a commentator and analyst:

Opinion:The world is getting closer to curing cancer. Medical experts tell me that the number that can be cured will steadily increase, and within 30 years they say 80% will be curable. They claim to have found the "holy grail" of cancer treatment.

That's amazing, but the problem is that we have to be prepared for it and in this country we're not.

I ask the government to speak to the people I spoke to. I ask the government to pay attention to international alerts.

I urge the government to consult scientists on several continents.

People are already dying in this country who don't need to die.

It can affect any of us at any time, our children or families.

It can be the difference for some between life and death. It's so important.

This is a dramatic layman's analysis, but I've talked to many people who are experts and read numerous reports.

I'm convinced.

Governments need to stop falling off the cliff like sleepwalkers.

They must consult, read these reports and stop the political march long enough to hear the alarm bells.

There. That's the emotion and the commentary.

Now the facts:

We are facing a moral, medical and financial tsunami

Australia's leading medical experts now believe that in a matter of years, 80% of cancers will be curable, but they warn that Australia is not ready for the emergence of technology that will achieve this.

It seems inevitable that the country faces a moral, medical and financial tsunami that could create a two-tier health care system, in which people with lots of money can buy life-saving treatments and those who don't can die.

Some compare the looming crisis to what is being faced with climate change and say it needs a similar focus and political effort to be managed properly.

We face a precipice in curing cancer, but acting now can save lives, writes Neil Mitchell (1)

Both the problem and the answer appear to be CAR T cell therapy and the emerging technology of immunotherapy.

In very simple terms, the body's infection-fighting T cells are eliminated and genetically reprogrammed to attack the disease-causing cancer.

The cells are then returned to the patient with the intention of specifically targeting the cancer.

There are now over 1,000 ongoing studies around the world focused on immunotherapy for different forms of blood cancers and solid cancers.

Even diabetes could be treated with this science.

But it's expensive.

One treatment, which is all that is needed, costs between $500,000 and $600,000.

Experts say it will be cheaper but not as fast as the technology to fight nearly every type of cancer develops.

"This is seen as the Holy Grail for cancer treatment"

One of the most qualified and respected physicians in the country is hematologist professor Miles Prince.

He is recognized for his work at the Peter MacCallum Institute and is Director of Molecular Oncology at Epworth.

"This is seen as the Holy Grail for cancer treatment," he said.

"The chances are very high that within a generation, perhaps 30 years, immunotherapy could cure 80% of cancers.

“This is like climate change and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It's so important and complex.

“CAR T already cures some lymphomas and leukemias. It will definitely cure more cancers.

"There is a financial tsunami coming our way. I think we need to model the Reserve Bank and the economy."

"The reserve monitors the world's financial machinations and makes recommendations or decisions accordingly.

"We need a medical version of the Reserve Bank to monitor ongoing research, testing in other countries, to prepare for what's to come and figure out how to fund it. It's urgent."

Prince also says that the government should investigate how to take advantage of the future of immunotherapy and how to reduce costs by increasing scientific involvement in the area in this country.

Prince is not a stranger. It has great scientific credibility.

And you are not alone in that opinion.

I have already spoken with four leading physicians and researchers in Australia and several in the United States.

They agree that massive change is coming and urgent government action is needed.

Australia has an opportunity here to get in on the ground floor, which will help Australian patients and potentially make money.

It should not be forgotten that what is a challenge for politicians and the public purse is driven by what is excellent news.

Many agree with Prince that immunotherapy is the "Holy Grail" in the fight against cancer.

In addition to CAR T, other immunotherapies are being developed that may be even more effective as a cancer treatment.

But CAR T is already approved in Australia for some forms of leukemia and lymphoma and works well.

It has also shown great promise in treating myeloma, but was denied approval for use in that disease last year.

This means that people who don't have to die can die. This is the first issue to be discussed and the urgent one.

Funding options are needed, and not all scientific advances in all areas will be funded. This means that potentially decisions will be made about who lives and who doesn't, who suffers a lot and who suffers less.

Around 2,625 Australians are diagnosed with myeloma each year. Their average life expectancy is 13 months. But 97% of patients respond to the new treatment, and a recent model showed that fewer than 800 people would die each year if it were available.

But last year, the government's Medical Services Advisory Committee rejected a request to fund myeloma treatment.

Why? He said there was "no good evidence of value for money".

Legendary sportscaster Sandy Roberts is an example of this. He was diagnosed with myeloma over a year ago.

Current treatments are working, but her doctor, Professor Andrew Spencer, says her outlook would significantly improve with immunotherapy and the sooner it is given, the better the results. But he is not eligible as per the government rules.

Sandy, as usual, is philosophical, if a little confused: "It seems odd that you would relapse and get sicker before they can give you something that will help you in the long run."

Another area where immunotherapy shows potential is being explored at the world-leading Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne.

Research led byAssociate Professor Misty Jenkins Demonstrates CAR T Cell Therapyextremely promising in rare brain tumors in children.

Once diagnosed with this tumor, children typically don't survive 12 months, says Jenkins.

"CAR T cells offer the possibility of a cure without long-term side effects.

"How these cells can completely kill tumors and persist in the body into the future is what is so exciting about CAR T cell therapy and why immunotherapy is the future of precision medicine."

Immunotherapy can be a game changer, but it's a very expensive game changer

A very accessible white paper has been publishedelaborated by the consulting group Evohealth.

It received funding from the medical company Janssen Australia, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

But the company was not involved in the report, and its independence is supported by an impressive array of scientific advisors.

He specifically discusses immunotherapy and the urgency of making it available in the treatment of myeloma, but also explains how this tsunami of immunotherapy seems inevitable.

Recommendations include: extended subsidy for individual treatments, better training for medical staff, a coordinated national approach and the establishment of an industry in Australia to produce CAR T cells.

It is part of the political DNA that when a problem arises, multiple reports are commissioned and finally considered.

With public money that is sensible and in this case essential. Immunotherapy can be a game changer, but it is a very expensive game changer.

The health dollar is already stretched to breaking point.

Many doctors outside the field argue that the money is better spent on drugs known to treat other forms of devastating disease, but not cancer.

Funding options are needed, and not all scientific advances in all areas will be funded.

This means that potentially decisions will be made about who lives and who doesn't, and who suffers a lot and who suffers less.

This inevitable tsunami of cancer cures must be faced. Doing nothing is not an option. We must prepare now.

Remember, this year, people are dying who don't need to die. Unless, of course, they are rich.

Neil Mitchell broadcasts on 3AW from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. m. from Monday to Friday. His campaign around this issue is still there.

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