Federal government still finalising CAR-T agreement with Peter Mac

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The federal government is still negotiating a "detailed funding agreement" to cover its $80 million commitment to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute for its Centre for Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy.

Prime minister Scott Morrison announced the commitment in March this year as part of a wider $496 million investment in Victorian health and medical research.

The $80 million was complemented by $25 million from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute with the combined funding committed to a new national centre focused on CAR T-cell therapy.

According to Mr Morrison, the centre would establish the capacity to provide CAR-T therapy to 200 patients, including through clinical trials. It is underpinned by a 14-bed clinical unit.

The commitment came in advance of the federal government's announcement it would fund Australia's first approved CAR-T therapy, Novartis' KYMRIAH tisagenlecleucel), for the small patient group of paediatric and young adult patients up to 25 years old with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). 

The Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute is one of the planned KYMRIAH treatment centres.

However, while health minister Greg Hunt and Victorian counterpart Jenny Mikakos recently announced a joint funding commitment to implement funded access to KYMRIAH, the federal government is yet to finalise an agreement with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute over the $80 million grant.

BiotechDispatch asked the Department of Health whether the federal government would derive any commercial return from the $80 million commitment.

According to a spokesperson, "In June 2019, the Department of Health and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute signed an agreement for initial funding (allocated in the 2018-19 financial year) to establish a Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy and a clinical unit to deliver cellular immunotherapy to patients at this site.

"A more detailed funding agreement for the life of the project is currently being negotiated between the Department and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and will replace the initial agreement."