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Belfast Scientists and Research into Drugs for Lung Cancer


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http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/ ... 71559.html


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How Belfast is leading the war on lung cancer

Friday, 21 November 2008

Scientists in Belfast are leading international research to find new drugs which will improve our low survival rates for lung cancer. Health Correspondent Claire Harrison speaks to Dr Dean Fennell about how patients are getting access to potentially ground-breaking drugs which would otherwise not be available for years.

The ads are shocking, and they need to be. Survival rates for lung cancer are lower than for other cancers

Dr Dean Fennell: bid to help patients live longer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world and yet it is one of the hardest to treat. Every year in Northern Ireland almost 1,000 people are diagnosed with the disease and its survival rate is below 10% — by far the lowest of all cancers here.

According to Dr Dean Fennell the key to boosting the number of people surviving lung cancer is through sophisticated research to develop drugs which can help patients live longer and better with the disease.

Funded by Cancer Research UK, Dr Fennell is involved in a number of lung cancer drug trials at the new Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s University Belfast. The centre is located alongside the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre and the Northern Ireland Cancer Clinical Trials Unit (NICCTU) on the Belfast City Hospital campus.

Scientists are collaborating in these centres on a common problem called drug resistance with the aim of finding out why some people’s cancers respond poorly to particular drugs and how this can be predicted and/or prevented.

Work to improve drug treatments is particularly important since only a minority of lung cancer patients are eligible for surgery. Dr Fennell, a consultant oncologist and senior lecturer, holds a prestigious Cancer Research UK fellowship to investigate and combat drug resistance. He is looking at specific proteins in cancer cells that influence the effectiveness of chemotherapy and translating his laboratory findings into new therapies. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Fennell outlined details of three clinical trials being led from Belfast on drugs with the potential to significantly improve survival rates. And crucially, it means patients on the trial have access to drugs potentially many years before they become generally available.

The first drug currently in clinical trial is bortezomib, or trade name Velcade, and is already licenced for use in myeloma and has proved highly effective against malignant pleural mesothelioma patients in the laboratory.

It may stop the growth of tumour cells by blocking some of the proteins needed for cell growth. Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer which usually kills within a year of diagnosis and is caused by asbestos exposure. Around 50 people die of it in Northern Ireland each year and that is expected to increase until death rates peak in 2015.

Belfast is one of a number of international centres trialling this drug alongside other centres in the Republic and the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands.

A second drug being worked on by Dr Fennell and his team is obatoclax. This drug is one of the first to turn off essential survival proteins to which the cancer is addicted and will be tested in two clinical trials, one funded by Cancer Research UK. It is hoped obatoclax will be very useful in the treatment of small cell lung cancer which has a devastatingly low survival rate.

“The survival rate for small cell lung cancer is just 2-5% two years after diagnosis which is very low indeed. Understanding drug resistance is the key to improving this,” he said.

“Small cell lung cancer cells are uniquely addicted to a certain group of proteins called BCL-2 proteins and if those are blocked then those cells die.”

A third strategy being worked on by Dr Fennell targets a protein which causes cell suicide in cancer, called the ‘death receptor’. Dr Fennell is working on this alongside world-renowned oncologist Professor Paddy Johnson, scientist Dr Dan Longly and clinician scientist Sandra Van Schaeybroeck.

“We’ve published recent data in the journal Cancer Research which shows that if you can combine the death receptor activator with another drug which inhibits growth factors, you can selectively kill cancer cells very effectively,” Dr Fennell said.

This trial is being run by Dr Fennell via the European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) which is based in Brussels but will be available to patients in Belfast and across the EU.

Finally, a study is under way in Belfast described by Dr Fennell as “the largest ever genetic study in cancer”. Its aim is to look at over 1,500 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumour samples at 18 research centres across the world, including Belfast, to see if it is possible to predict which patients will relapse after surgery and which will survive after surgery alone.

Dr Fennell said: “Less than a third of lung cancer patients have early stage NSCLC that is potentially curable following surgery.

“While it is now accepted that the use of chemotherapy after surgery reduces the risk of recurrence in a minority of patients, no routinely used molecular test exists to select those patients at a high risk of recurrence.”

Dr Fennell sums up the main goal of his research as “helping patients live longer and with a better quality of life”.

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(Belfast Telegraph, November 21, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not being posted with the intention of being medical advice of any kind.

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