Mumbai: A few months ago, India’s drug regulator Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), approved the commercial use of CAR-T cell therapy. The therapy includes genetically reprogramming a patient’s immune system to fight cancer.

Today, the therapy has turned out to be a lifesaver for many patients, including for Dr (Col) V K Gupta, a Delhi-based gastroenterologist with 28 years of experience of working in the Indian Army, Indian Express reported.

He accessed the therapy by paying just INR 42 lakh or $50,000, whereas a similar therapy costs up to INR 4 crore $480,000 abroad.

Doctors at the Tata Memorial Hospital, where Gupta underwent the procedure, said he is “currently free of cancer cells.” Gupta is the first patient to have achieved this status, something he could only dream of just a year ago.

The doctor who performed the therapy on Gupta said he was totally free of cancer cells.  “While it’s premature to claim a lifelong cure, the patient is currently free of cancer cells,” Dr Hasmukh Jain, hemato-oncologist and associate professor at the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC), Tata Memorial Centre, was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

However, the doctor added that it was still premature to tell about the success rate of the therapy. He said the initial findings suggest “better survival chances and lower remission rates” for patients in the early stages of cancer.

“Years of data are needed to identify potential relapse timelines for patients, if any are ever reported among these patients,” Jain said.

The therapy, NexCAR19, is developed by ImmunoACT, a company incubated at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), IIT-B and Tata Memorial Hospital. It focuses on treating B-cell cancers (types of cancers that form in the immune system’s cells) such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

The CDSCO approved its commercial use in October 2023. Today, the therapy is available in over 30 hospitals in more than 10 cities in India. Patients aged above 15, who are suffering from B-cell cancers are eligible for the treatment.