Revolutionary cancer therapy comes to North Queensland

Published Thursday, 11 July, 2024 at 10:31 AM


The Honourable Steven Miles

Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services and Minister for Women
The Honourable Shannon Fentiman

  • Townsville will be the first regional city in Australia to introduce a revolutionary new treatment for leukaemia and other blood cancers.
  • The cutting-edge treatment for blood cancer patients will be life changing for people in north Queensland.
  • The Townsville Hospital and Health Service has been approved as a second treatment site as part of the statewide service previously available only through the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

The Miles Labor Government is bringing a revolutionary new treatment of blood cancer patients to Townsville – the first regional city in Australia to receive the capability.

Known as CAR T-cell therapy, the new treatment will help patients who have exhausted all traditionally available therapies by harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells in the blood.

T-cells, a type of white blood cell, are removed from the patient’s blood, and flown overseas to a laboratory, where scientist add special receptors called Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR) to the T-cells.

The modified CAR T-cells are then multiplied into large numbers in the lab, before being carefully transported back to Townsville and reinfused into the patient’s body. The specialised T-cells are then able to recognise and attack the cancer cells in the patient’s blood.

The treatment is available for north Queensland patients with certain types of blood cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma.

This is the first time CAR T-cell therapy has been offered to Australians outside of a major capital city, reducing the burden of travel for patients in north Queensland.

The therapy is jointly funded by the Miles and Albanese Labor Governments and has been made possible through a collaboration with the statewide CAR T-cell therapy service, which is based at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Quotes attributable to Queensland Premier Steven Miles:

“As one of the largest regional cities in Australia, Townsville is the right place for this nation first.

“Because Queenslanders deserve quality healthcare in their community.

“CAR T-cell therapy will be a game changer for those Queenslanders who need treatment, now without the stress of having to travel to Brisbane for it.

“I’m proud my government can help make this important service available, because that’s what matters to Queensland.”    

Quotes attributable to Queensland Minister for Health Shannon Fentiman MP:

“This ground-breaking treatment will be life changing for so many Queenslanders seeking treatment for blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.

“It’s so fantastic to see Queensland leading the way in cancer care and providing this innovative treatment in a regional city for the first time in the country.

“This will deliver more healthcare for the north Queensland community close to home, without the need to travel.

“The Miles Government is committed to providing world-class cancer treatment for Queenslanders, no matter where they live.

“I’d like to also acknowledge the work of all the clinicians and hospital staff in helping bring this service to Townsville including Townsville haematologist and medical director of cancer services Dr Andrew Birchley.”

Quotes attributable to Federal Minister for Health Mark Butler MP:

“The launch of CAR T-cell therapy in Townsville is a testament to what can be achieved through collaboration and investment in cutting-edge medical research.

“The Albanese Government is proud to support this game changing treatment, which has the potential to transform the lives of blood cancer patients in north Queensland.”

Quotes attributable to Mundingburra MP Les Walker:

“Townsville University Hospital is world class and services all of North Queensland and this life saving treatment just adds to the services they can provide.

“Anyone receiving treatment for cancer is going through a traumatic time so to be able to have this service close to hone will help ease sone of that burden.

“We are backing new services like this as well as the $530 million expansion of Townsville University Hospital to deliver an extra 143 beds as the city’s population changes and grows.”

Quotes attributable to Thuringowa MP Aaron Harper:

“I know how important it is to have the best treatment possible close to home which is why this announcement is so vital.

"We will continue to back Townsville Hospital and Health Staff with world class services, great facilities and the right people in place to help the community.

"This is unlike the LNP who refer to our health workers as duds and last time they were in government when they cut 398 health staff from the THHS."

Quotes attributable to Townsville MP Scott Stewart:

“Having this life saving treatment in Townsville is so important for those going through an incredibly difficult time.

"The Miles Government will always back Townsville with what they need when it comes to health and our amazing hospital.”

Quotes attributable to Townsville Hospital and Health Service medical director Dr Andrew Birchley:

“Bringing this treatment to north Queensland will make the world of difference for patients who would otherwise have to travel all the way to Brisbane at a time when they’re already dealing with the strains of their cancer symptoms and treatment.

“The launch of CAR T-cell therapy in Townsville has been an enormous team effort; I’d like to thank the local team, as well as everyone externally who’s played a role in making this a reality.

“We expect to treat five to 10 patients through CAR T-cell therapy during the first year of this new service.

“Blood cancer patients who have not responded to traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or patients whose cancer has come back after treatment, may be considered for CAR T-cell therapy.”

Quotes attributable to Townsville Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive Kieran Keyes:

“This milestone highlights our commitment to bringing advanced medical treatments to north Queensland, ensuring our community has access to the best possible care without the added burden of travel.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of medical advancements and by expanding our life-saving treatment option, we’re giving some of the sickest members of our community the opportunity to access world-class care close to home.

“I want to thank our amazing staff, led by Dr Andrew Birchley for working tirelessly to make this treatment a reality for patients in the region.”