The first children to receive Novartis’ Kymriah – a ‘game-changing’ CAR-T therapy for cancer - will start treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London this week, NHS England has announced.

A second centre, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, is also ready to begin treating children with a rare form of leukaemia with Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) while a third, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is expected to join the programme next month.

The start of this treatment, which costs around £282,000 per patient at its full list price, “marks the beginning of a new era of personalised medicine, and forms part of the upgrade in cancer services which will be set out shortly NHS’s long term plan,” NHS England said.

“CAR-T shows immense promise, and the NHS is now leading from the front by ensuring patients in England among the first in the world to benefit,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.

“As we develop our Long Term Plan for cancer services this is one of the first in what is expected to be a growing number of personalised treatments available for NHS patients”.

“This is a step change in treatment, not just for childhood leukaemia but potentially other cancers in the future, and offers a genuine chance of a long-term cure for children and young people who have exhausted other treatment options,” added Geoff Shenton, consultant paediatric haematologist at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The news comes just days after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended NHS funding for Kymriah – via the Cancer Drugs Fund – for use in patients up to 25 years old with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) that is refractory, in relapse post-transplant or in second or later relapse.

This came on the back of a commercial deal agreed between Novartis and NHS England over provision of the therapy, which works by harnessing a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.