A new treatment method for cancer is now available in Malaysia.
CANCER patients now have the option of an additional treatment long used in Japan to help manage malignant tumours.
This treatment method, which utilises the patient’s own immune system cells, is being made available in Malaysia by local biotechnology company Nichi-Asia Life Science Sdn Bhd (Niscell).
The company is collaborating with GM Corporation from Japan to provide the technology and equipment necessary for the isolation, processing and multiplication of immune cells, specifically a patient’s own natural killer cells (NKC) and T-lymphocytes.
The basis behind this therapy, known as Autologous Immune Enhancement Therapy (AIET), is that our own immune systems actually have the capability of destroying cancer cells by themselves.
In fact, cancer cells are being formed in our bodies every day. In the thousands of cell divisions occurring in us daily to replace dead cells (our skin alone sheds tens of thousands of cells every hour), some are bound to go wrong. And it is these “wrong” divisions that result in cancer cells being produced.
Officially launching the company are (from left) AIET expert Dr Hiroshi Terunuma from the Biotherapy Institute of Japan, Ito, Dr Ismail, Dr Ridzwan, and Nichi-In Center for Regenerative Medicine, India, director Dr Samuel JK Abraham.
So, why aren’t we all dying of cancer?
The reason is because our immune system destroys these abnormal cells. And the immune cells in charge of this task are our NKCs and T-lymphocytes.
It is only when the immune system is weak or overwhelmed that cancer cells can rapidly reproduce and cause their ill effects.
In AIET, 50-60 millilitres of blood is taken from the patient’s arm at the hospital or clinic, and sent to the lab.
At the lab, the patient’s NKCs and T-lymphocytes are isolated from his blood, and multiplied through a process lasting two to three weeks.
After that, the immune cells undergo screening tests to ensure that they are safe.
The cells are then transported back to the hospital, where they will be transfused back to the patient. (For more information, go to http://bit.ly/immunetherapy, or read New approach to cancer therapy, Fit4Life, Feb 27, 2011)
In Malaysia, the only lab offering this service is Niscell’s facility in Kota Damansara, Selangor.
In addition to offering AIET services, the lab is also one of the few in the country that can isolate and process stem cells for therapeutic purposes.
Although the company has been in operation since 2009, it was officially launched just last week in Kuala Lumpur by Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican.
In his speech, Dr Ismail said that while the Health Ministry supports innovative therapies, such therapies “must be conducted ethically, and in the context of clinical trials, if robust evidence is still lacking in supporting such therapies”.
Niscell chairman Datuk Dr Ridzwan Bakar had said in his own speech earlier that the company, as a good corporate citizen, would continue to provide assistance for the local medical fraternity to utilise the AIET technology in clinical trials.
He later told reporters that Niscell has been collaborating with a few cancer centres in the country to provide AIET for advanced cancer patients on a clinical trial basis for the past two years.
The purpose of the trial, he said, was to see the effect of the treatment on tumour size, the patient’s quality of life, as well as any possible side effects, in the local context.
Although the trial is still ongoing, Dr Ridzwan stressed that AIET has been used in Japan on thousands of patients without ill effects for the past two decades.
In addition, Dr Ismail said: “Centres and companies involved in manufacturing cells for clinical trials or therapies must be compliant with good manufacturing practice (GMP).
“Clinicians must adhere strictly to the guidelines for Good Clinical Practice, whilst those involved in the processing and handling of the stem cells must ensure that their facilities have Good Laboratory Practice.”
He added with a laugh: “As long as you have all the Ps, then that’s good.”
Niscell was awarded the GMP status by the National Pharmaceutical Bureau in March 2009, and is also one of the five private blood bank and stem cell collection facilities licensed by the Health Ministry.
Also present at the ceremony were Japanese Embassy deputy chief of mission Koichi Ito and Niscell chief executive office Vincent Chang.