Fund awards £120,000 for chemotherapy research

September 28, 2012

A new £120,000 research project into the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma patients is to be be funded by the JHMRF. The Leicester University project was chosen from a highly competitive field of applications across the UK.

A team led by Professor Dean Fennell will look at how chemotherapy can be targeted at those who will benefit from it, and in particular the role of the gene BRCA1 in identifying such patients.

Mesothelioma remains a difficult disease to treat and options for patients are limited. Chemotherapy is usually the first choice if patients are well enough to undergo a prolonged course of treatment. Nevertheless, response rates are modest: only a quarter of patients with mesothelioma treated in this way show a reduction or a slowing down of progression in their tumour. A significant number of patients suffer side-effects of chemotherapy without any actual benefit, so targeting treatment is a critical issue.

Leicester researchers will help identify people likely to benefit from treatment with a novel drug called Vinorelbine, which has shown promising activity against mesothelioma by speeding up the rate of the tumour’s natural cell death.

Vinorelbine has been investigated in clinical trials in the UK, where it has been given to all those eligible for chemotherapy.  Preliminary findings suggest that patients with mesothelioma cancer cells that fail to carry a gene called BRCA1 – around a third of all treated – are resistant to Vinorelbine.  Our study aims to establish what proportion of patients have this ‘resistant’ form of mesothelioma, and to find out how this resistance occurs.

In this way, treatment can be personalised for those who could benefit; this targeted approach holds great hope for improving the success of future drug development in all cancers, including mesothelioma.

The study will be carried out in the laboratory using archived tissue samples to determine whether patients with mesotheliomas that do not have the BRCA1 gene derive less benefit from treatment with Vinorelbine. If the results provide evidence that the presence of BRCA1 can predict those individuals who will benefit from Vinorelbine, the next stage will be to test this theory in a randomised clinical trial.  This trial is already planned with the support of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Vinorelbine.

There is an urgent, unmet need to identify more effective therapies for treating patients with mesothelioma. This project will help develop personalised therapy and provide much needed improvements in care for patients with mesothelioma; it has real potential to impact directly on patients’ survival, and the Fund is delighted to be able to support this vital project.