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Weekly Edition - Published  24 May 2016

 

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Merseyside trust is national leader in clinical trial of pioneering lung cancer treatment

Exterior of The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s main site in Wirral

MORE people from Merseyside and Cheshire than anywhere else in the UK are taking part in a trial of a pioneering drug that could teach their immune system to attack and kill lung cancer cells.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, which provides specialist cancer treatment and carries out groundbreaking research, has recruited more patients than any other UK site for the 'Checkmate' lung cancer trial. It's a trial of a new type of treatment called immunotherapy. Unlike chemotherapy drugs, which focus on killing cancer cells directly, immunotherapy works by helping the body's immune system to recognise cancer and then attack it in the same way as an infection. As well as causing fewer side effects than chemotherapy in most people, immunotherapies seem to be extremely effective in some patients, leaving them in remission for significantly longer than might otherwise be expected.

Although the concept has been around for a while, previous attempts at immunotherapy were largely unsuccessful because cancer cells are normal body cells gone 'wrong' and they can 'hide' by producing a protein called PDL1 which deactivates the immune system. The CheckMate trial involves a drug called nivolumab that works by blocking PDL1 so the cancer cells can't 'hide'; the immune system is then triggered to attack them. While the CheckMate trial is using nivolumab to treat squamous cell lung cancer, the drug has also shown good effects in patients with kidney cancer and melanoma and is now licensed for use in all three tumour sites.

Dr Richard Griffiths

Consultant Medical Oncologist Dr Richard Griffiths, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre's site lead for the CheckMate trial, said:- "It's too early to start talking about a cure for advanced cancer, but those patients who do see benefits have a much longer remission than we would usually expect. This final phase of the trial started in August 2015 and we have 23 patients now taking part here at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, more than any other UK site and we believe the 2nd highest in the world. Patients on the drug have nearly a 50% higher chance of being alive 12 months later compared to standard chemotherapy. They come every 2 weeks for an infusion that takes about an hour, instead of having chemotherapy."

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is also taking part in the IMMotion 51 clinical trial for kidney cancer. This involves an immunotherapy drug called Atezolizumab, which also blocks the PDL1 protein emitted by cancer cells, being used alongside Avastin. 8 patients are currently on this trial and the results so far have been positive.  "We are moving to a new era for the treatment of some advanced cancers. Cancer drugs have traditionally suppressed the immune system. These new drugs stimulate the immune system to attack cancer. The hope is that they will enable patients with advanced cancer to bring the disease under control for a much longer time and with fewer side effects than chemotherapy." said Dr Griffiths.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust is active in the development and trial of new cancer treatments with an extensive portfolio of studies at any 1 time.

 

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