Next step for fight against blood cancer

01 December 2012

A new treatment conceived and developed in Birmingham to treat blood cancers has begun a crucial trial phase.

Blood cancers are notoriously difficult to treat, because chemotherapy drugs attack the cancer but also damage the body’s vital ability to create new red and white blood cells.

However, in their Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research-funded programme Professors Chris Bunce and Mark Drayson, have developed a combination of drugs which reduces this damage while still providing a treatment for the cancer.

Now Prof Drayson is working with Dr Jim Murray, a consultant haematologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, on a trial to see how the drugs work across a wider range of patients.

Dr Jim Murray

So far the combination of Bezafibrate and medroxyProgestrerone acetate (BaP) has shown promising signs when trialled with a small group of severely ill patients for whom all other treatments had failed.

“It worked in some of the patients, in that it made their quality of life much better, and in a few it certainly prolonged their lives,” said Dr Murray.

“BaP attacks the cancer by shunting the cancerous cells into a development path, that results in their death.

”Prof Drayson’s links with the well-established research networks in Malawi then led to a successful trial of BaP in that country, where the incidence of a particular form of blood cancer is extremely high.

“Burkitt’s lymphoma is rare in the UK, but is the most common form of malignant cancer in children in sub-Saharan Africa, especially where the children have had malaria,” said Prof. Drayson.

“The trial was very successful.

It stopped the tumour growth without toxicity, which is exactly what we’re looking for,” he said.

Results from those two trials have enabled increased sophistication in the dosing of patients to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Dr Murray now hopes these relatively small scale successes will be repeated in this new, larger study, which is taking place at QEHB and at other centres across the West Midlands.

“BaP offers some sort of control, which is a big attraction for the patients we will be looking to recruit.

They will be very sick patients, for whom treatment has failed or who have relapsed after successful initial treatment,” he said.

“There are some who will survive longer, but this is meant primarily as a controlling measure to offer people a better quality of life.

“The trial is being funded by Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity and focuses on adult patients who have acute myeloid leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

For more information on this trial or about the Trust’s other research programmes, email research@uhb.nhs.uk.