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Phase III clinical trial spells new hope for patients with hard-to-treat form of cancer.

M2 EQUITYBITES-May 19, 2017-Phase III clinical trial spells new hope for patients with hard-to-treat form of cancer

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Patients suffering from a hard-to-treat type of cancer have been given new hope thanks to an innovative clinical trial that is being conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of Leicester, the two universities reported on Friday.

The trial is aimed at investigating a new drug that can potentially boost the body's immune system to fight off mesothelioma, a type of cancer that can be caused by asbestos. The trial will be conducted at the University of Southampton's Centre for Cancer Immunology, the UK's first and currently only centre dedicated to cancer immunology research.

The phase III randomised controlled trial is funded by Cancer Research UK and supported by Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY). It will investigate the drug nivolumab, which is already used to treat advanced melanoma and advanced kidney cancer, and its efficacy at targeting mesothelioma. Some 304 patients with relapsed mesothelioma will be recruited for the trial.

The drug functions by seeking and blocking a protein named PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T-cells. Blocking PD-1 then activates the T-cells to search for and kill cancer cells. Current treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, but these only control the cancer, rather than defeating it.

Mesothelioma cases have been rising since the 1970s, with incidents increasing by almost six-fold (a 497% increase) in Great Britain. In 2013 alone, there were around 2,700 new cases of mesothelioma in the UK, which equates to more than seven cases diagnosed every day.

Professor Gareth Griffiths, the study's co-chief investigator from the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Southampton, commented: "The UK has one of the world's highest incidences of mesothelioma and currently there aren't many ways to treat it. Boosting the immune system by releasing killer T-cells that have previously been blocked could offer us a new way to treat more patients with this devastating disease."

The trial is being run in collaboration with clinical lead Professor Dean Fennell at the University of Leicester. Professor Fennell said: "Preliminary studies targeting PD-1 in mesothelioma have shown promising activity. CONFIRM aims to definitively assess the true benefit of nivolumab for patients with relapsed mesothelioma in a setting where there is an unmet need.

"Critically, we aim to understand why patients respond (or not) to this drug, and identify biomarkers to ensure that we can personalise therapy to maximise the benefit for patients."

Dr Catherine Pickworth, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, elaborated on the way the drug works. She explained: "Immunotherapy treatments work by turning the power of our immune system against cancer. They are already being used routinely to treat advanced skin and kidney cancers, and are showing promise for other types of cancer too.

"This clinical trial will find out whether an immunotherapy drug could benefit people with mesothelioma, which is hard for doctors to treat successfully. We urgently need trials like this to help improve survival for patients with this aggressive type of cancer."

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Publication:M2 EquityBites (EQB)
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Date:May 19, 2017
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