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Published Friday 3 Nov 2023

Today saw the announcement of a major breakthrough in the treatment of an incurable blood cancer, B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which involved Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley clinical and research teams in a very successful trial.

The CAR T-cell treatment developed by the Malaghan Institute has been shown to be safer than leading commercial treatments in treating certain types of blood cancer, while remaining effective.
All of the patients in the trial had exhausted all treatment options, and three months after receiving the CAR T-call treatment, half of the patients’ lymphomas were in complete response.

CAR T-cell therapy works by separating a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) from their blood, and genetically modifying them so they can identify and attack the patient’s cancer.

Dr Robert Weinkove, clinical director of the Malaghan Institute.


The research leader, Rob Weinkove, says the most remarkable feature of the phase 1 trial has been the low rate of typical CAR T-cell side effects.

“In particular, no patient had severe cytokine release syndrome (CRS), and no patient had neurotoxicity. As a result, we have transitioned to outpatient management, which is better for patients, and better for hospital capacity. As a one-off outpatient-based therapy with curative potential, CAR T-cell therapy has great potential to be highly cost effective, and deliverable at Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand sites.”

The low toxicity rates in the trial opens up the possibility of treating patients in subsequent trials before they have exhausted all their treatment options. 

“The ENABLE trial is a national effort — patients travelled from across Aotearoa to access the trial (with travel support from Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand). As well as developing a new form of CAR T-cell therapy, it has galvanised development of NZ pathways for regulatory approval of CAR T-cell therapies, and for managing CAR T-cell toxicities.


“Our thanks to Wellington Hospital’s Clinical Trial Unit, to the nursing teams on Ward 5 North and at Te Rerenga Ora Wellington Blood & Cancer Centre, as well as to all the study participants and their whanau!”

Kim Hill interviewed Professor Carl June from the University of Pennsylvania who pioneered the therapy, Dr Robert Weinkove, and writer and poet Michele Leggott, who is twelve months into the trial, for an update on her progress.

Listen here