In Practice

Cell and gene therapies at the forefront of innovative medical care: Implications for South Africa

M S Pepper, M Alessandrini, A Pope, W van Staden, R J Green


The fields of cell and gene therapy are moving rapidly towards providing innovative cures for incurable diseases. A current and highly topical example is immunotherapies involving T-cells that express chimeric antigen receptors (CAR T-cells), which have shown promise in the treatment of leukaemia and lymphoma. These new medicines are indicative of the changes we can anticipate in the practice of medicine in the near future. Despite their promise, they pose challenges for introduction into the healthcare sector in South Africa (SA), including: (i) that they are technologically demanding and their manufacture is resource intensive; (ii) that the regulatory system is underdeveloped and likely to be challenged by ethical, legal and social requirements that accompany these new therapies; and (iii) that costs are likely to be prohibitive, at least initially, and before economies of scale take effect. Investment should be made into finding novel and innovative ways to introduce these therapies into SA sooner rather than later to ensure that SA patients are not excluded from these exciting new opportunities.

Authors' affiliations

M S Pepper, South African Medical Research Council Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy; and Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Department of Immunology, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

M Alessandrini, Department of Pathology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland

A Pope, Emeritus Associate Professor, Department of Private Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa

W van Staden, Centre for Ethics and Philosophy of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

R J Green, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria and Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Pretoria, South Africa

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immunotherapy; Cancer; Clinical trials; Innovation; Gene therapy

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(1):20-22. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2018.v109i1.13425

Article History

Date submitted: 2018-12-13
Date published: 2018-12-13

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