CAR-T Therapy to be Made Available in Costa Rica Through Partnership With Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which together developed the world’s first personalized cellular therapy for cancer, have announced plans to collaborate with Costa Rica’s Social Security Program. The initiative serves to facilitate CAR-T therapy research in Costa Rica and to bring CAR-T therapy to patients in the South American country. The partnership is intended as a step toward global parity in clinical research prospects involving CAR-T cell treatments, a cancer treatment that is not generally available outside of the United States.

In collaboration with Novartis and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn scientists led research, development, and clinical trials of the world’s first approved CAR-T therapy, and their research has shown remissions lasting more than ten years in patients who received the treatment after exhausting all other options. In the United States, there are now six FDA-approved CAR-T cell treatments for six distinct malignancies, including pediatric and adult leukemia, as well as various other blood cancers.

Two Memorandums of Understanding, one between CCSS and Penn and the other between CCSS and CHOP, were recently unveiled at the National Children’s Hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica. In attendance were First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Dr. Cynthia Telles, and representatives from Penn Medicine and CHOP.

“At least 15,000 patients around the world have received CAR-T cells, and many more clinical trials using CAR-T therapy are underway for nearly every major type of tumor,” said Carl H. June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy and director of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. “We are thrilled to collaborate with our Costa Rican colleagues in the hopes of paving the way for patients in underprivileged areas to benefit from clinical research programs that provide this individualized medicine.”

“A major element of our mission at the Abramson Cancer Center is equity in cancer care and research,” stated Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “This new initiative with Costa Rica highlights Penn Medicine’s Center for Global Health’s long-standing efforts to address global inequities with regard to CAR-T therapy.”

Under the provisions of the partnership, the three organizations will look into the possibility of adult and pediatric patients coming to Penn or CHOP to have their immune cells collected and turned into CAR-T cells. The CAR-T cells that are successfully created will then be transferred to Costa Rica for injection as part of a clinical trial procedure there. As Costa Rican health care practitioners create procedures to treat patients in clinical trials utilizing this technology, the three parties may choose to pursue educational and training possibilities based on Penn and CHOP’s experience treating patients in the United States.

“Through this partnership, our children and adults suffering from cancer will have new hope for a next-generation treatment created by international specialists in this field,” stated the executive president of the Costa Rican social security system, Dr. Alvaro Ramos Chaves.

“Our program has been privileged to be a part of the safe rollout of CAR-T therapy around the world,” said Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD, section chief of the Cellular Therapy and Transplant Section at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and inaugural director of the Susan S. and Stephen P. Kelly Center for Cancer Immunotherapy. “Given the significance of fairness and access, our effort in Costa Rica might serve as a model for increasing the safe use of CAR-T across the world. We look forward to continuing our work with Costa Rica, which has an excellent universal health system and a strong commitment to accessible medical care.

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