Bengaluru, India: AstraZeneca India (AstraZeneca Pharma India Limited), a leading science-led biopharmaceutical company, announced the launch of the initiative 'Project Chariot' to help diagnose and treat patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) in India, forms the first strategic partnership with Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute (RGCI) to help roll out the programme across North India and Delhi NCR region. Through this initiative, AstraZeneca aims to help identify and support CLL reference laboratories (CRLs) in strategic locations across India and connect peripheral hospitals with their closest CRL so that patients combatting the disease can avail themselves the necessary FISH (Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization) panel and IgHV test, and expand the test access to CLL patients throughout the country.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts from the very cells that form into white blood cells called lymphocytes. The bone marrow is where this type of blood cancer takes formidable shape. From the bone marrow, these cancerous WBCs flow into the blood. Since the leukaemia cells build up stock over the years, most individuals having the cancer may not experience any symptoms till a few years have passed. However, over time, these leukaemia cells can spread to the lymph nodes, liver and spleen. Given the chronic nature of this cancer, it is one of the most challenging cancers to cure. In India, the average incidence of CLL per year is 6774 cases, an average death of 5490 cases and a prevalence of 22083 cases and show a much younger age of onset, more aggressive course and shorter time to treatment when compared to CLL patients globally.
Though the majority of the CLL patients respond well to current treatment protocols of chemo immunotherapy (CIT), a subgroup of patients do not respond to this treatment or relapse within two years, and this subgroup is known as High-Risk CLL patients. Identification of these HR CLL patients becomes extremely important in order to guide appropriate treatment decisions for them. Even though physicians routinely perform tests such as the flow cytometric test and FISH single-marker tests in their clinical decision-making process, testing for IgHV hypermutation-which has emerged as an important prognostic biomarker are not being routinely done to identify HR CLL due to the lack of availability of testing centres in India using the latest Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology. Due to this lack of testing centres that can perform the IgHV hypermutation test and FISH Panel test, the HR CLL patients are missed from being identified and getting the appropriate therapy suitable for them.
Commenting on the occasion, Dr. Anil Kukreja - V.P Medical Affairs & Regulatory, AstraZeneca, said, "Project Chariot aims to bridge the gap of lack of testing centres and work towards identifying and supporting CLL reference laboratories (CRLs) across strategic locations in India and build a framework that can provide better test access to patients. We are extremely pleased to have found a partner in Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute, the first such CRL to adopt and implement the initiative in North India. This association will help identify high-risk CLL patients requiring different treatment approaches as per the latest evidence, thereby improving their clinical outcomes. This initiative is aligned with AstraZeneca's core value of keeping patients at the centre of everything that we do."
Dr. Col. (Retired) Anurag Mehta - Director - Department of Laboratory & Transfusion Services and Director Research, RGCI), also commenting on the occasion, " RGCI has believed in going the extra mile in bringing the benefits of cutting-edge technology to its patients. It's critical to identify HR CLL patients so that proper treatment protocols can be executed promptly. Due to the current gap in the ecosystem, with limited testing centres that can perform the IgHV hypermutation test and the FISH Panel test, HR CLL patients are not being diagnosed and receiving the required medication.
Our collaboration with AstraZeneca for Project Chariot is a step towards this direction to provide the latest diagnostics tests for identification of HR CLL patients across north India and improve their treatment outcome. "
Project Chariot does not aim to redefine the current CLL treatment protocol but to help identify HR CLL patients by providing better and more comprehensive test access to these patients and consequently improving their treatment outcome.