Today is World Cancer Research Day- a day dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of cancer research. Thanks to a united effort by researchers from around the world, cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, and 50% of those diagnosed with cancer now survive. To continue to improve these statistics, it is vital to identify new and more effective early detection methods and treatments that can improve the lives of those with cancer.
Commitment to beating cancer sooner
At the BCI, we are committed to ensuring that the research conducted here is relevant to and will impact on cancer patients. Our Centre for Experimental Cancer Medicine facilitates the translation of scientific findings from the laboratory into patient benefit through clinical trials.
The ATOMIC-meso trial, led by Prof Peter Szlosarek, is one example of how research makes its way from bench to bedside to help transform patients’ lives. This trial is investigating the efficacy of a new drug called ADI-PEG20 in combination with standard chemotherapies (cisplatin and pemetrexed) for mesothelioma- a cancer that can develop due to exposure to asbestos.
Prof Szlosarek identified that malignant mesothelioma cells lack a protein called ASS1, which is responsible for the production of a key amino acid, arginine, required for the growth and metabolism of many aggressive tumours, including mesothelioma. ADI-PEG20 works by depleting the arginine in the blood, and as a result tumour cells lacking ASS1 are ‘starved’ of this essential amino acid.
The safety and efficacy of ADI-PEG20 was investigated in a clinical trial called ADAM, which reported an improvement in the average time of survival without mesothelioma progression, compared to standard chemotherapy. Subsequent laboratory research by Prof Szlosarek and his team and a phase 1 trial named TRAP, revealed that a combination of cisplatin, pemetrexed and ADI-PEG20 doubled the tumour shrinkage rate in patients with aggressive mesotheliomas with excellent safety.
Following this success, TRAP progressed to the phase 2/3 ATOMIC-meso trial. The current trial is expected to report initial results in 2019 and, if positive, may lead to the first new drug approval for treatment of mesothelioma since the licensing of pemetrexed almost 15 years ago.
This highlights the importance of cancer research in pushing the boundaries to discover novel treatments that have the potential to save the lives of cancer patients.
A patient perspective
Fiona, a patient on the ATOMIC-meso trial, said: “After being diagnosed in August 2017 with an incurable aggressive cancer and a life expectancy of 6 months, I was left with a feeling of worthlessness. I was a healthy and fit 55-year-old woman with a husband and five children. I had, at some time in my life, been unwittingly exposed to asbestos and was now suffering horrific consequences.”
“The opportunity of being on the ATOMIC-meso trial at Barts under Prof Szlosarek has brought hope, happiness and enthusiasm back into my life. To have been given extended time has enabled me to travel monthly and to spend time with friends and my precious family.”
Fiona and her friends are committed to fundraising for mesothelioma, to help raise awareness and funds for cancer research and clinical trials.
Fiona added: “How thankful I am to have been given the chance to be part of this trial. Throughout this process, I have been honoured to watch a new world of people who I see dedicated to helping others. A big life in a short time- everyone should have this right.”
Clincal trials, such as ATOMIC-meso, are a critical part of cancer research. The focus for translation here at the BCI spans a broad spectrum of cancer types, including lung, breast and pancreatic cancer. Our dedicated researchers and clinicians will continue to stand together in a bid to beat cancer sooner with the ultimate aim of helping more patients like Fiona.