We have just received the following report from The Royal Marsden thanking the Melanoma Fund for £25k funding for a melanoma project undertaken by Professor Harrington. We would like to share this with you and thank the people who have run, stood with cans, walked, talked and sold for us, as without this support, this donation and result would not have be possible.
Professor Harrington and his research team aim to improve the outcomes for patients by developing more effective and kinder therapies that can be used to create treatment plans that are personalised for each patient. The results from his pioneering research studies and clinical trials will continue to give cancer patients world-wide greater treatment options and improved care.
On behalf of everyone at The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, thank you for your generous support of this essential research. We are delighted to provide an update on the potentially life changing project you helped to make possible.
An urgent, unmet need
Since the early 1990s, the number of people being diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK has more than doubled. The incidence rate is slowing; however, the number of new cases is still projected to rise by a further seven per cent by 2035. The most aggressive and life-threatening form of skin cancer is malignant melanoma, which has a consistently poor prognosis.
There is an urgent need to develop new treatment combinations for this disease in order to save more lives and give hope to patients who have nowhere else to turn.
Leading the way in personalised treatment
A patient’s treatment plan is usually determined by their cancer type, location and size, amongst other traits. However, the standard ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatments prescribed do not work for everyone because each person’s cancer has a different genetic makeup. This means that certain treatments will kill off some cancer cells but leave others, resulting in the remaining cancer cells continuing to grow and spread.
Therefore, the focus of cancer research has shifted from the tumours origin in the body to the biological makeup of cancer. This work is supported by developments in molecular pathology that allow researchers to identify biological molecules in tumours and analyse multiple genetic abnormalities in cancer cells simultaneously.
By studying a tumours unique biological characteristics (biomarkers), researchers can understand more much more about what causes the cancer to grow and spread. This insight is used to create personalised treatment plans by screening a patient’s tumour for biomarkers and then matching the results with a combination of therapies that will be most effective for them. The information gained also helps scientists to design targeted anti-cancer drugs, resulting in new treatments that are more successful with fewer side effects.
Importantly, some biomarkers can be found in many different tumour types. This allows breakthroughs in one cancer type to be translated quickly and easily into benefits for more patients. For example, The Royal Marsden has pioneered new treatments that target the BRCA mutation, which is a cause of melanoma, as well as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.
Using viruses to revolutionise cancer treatment
Oncolytic virotherapy is a rapidly advancing field which is developing a new kind of treatment that uses viruses designed to target and kill cancer cells. A virus takes advantage of cells to multiply; thus the modified virus seeks out and spreads to all the cancer cells.
Furthermore, while the immune system is a powerful defence against threats to the body, cancer can hide by taking advantage of the inherent ‘brakes’ that stop this system from attacking healthy cells. The virus naturally stimulates the body’s immune system to recognise the cancer cells as a threat that needs to be eradicated. Importantly, early trials show that virotherapy does not cause significant side effects, adding to evidence that it should be safe to use with patients in the clinic.
Many new virotherapy drugs are being tested for use against a wide variety of cancer types. For example, RT3D is a virus that naturally occurs in the respiratory and digestive systems of most people without causing harm. When used as virotherapy, the drug activates anti-tumour immune responses for patients with melanoma, lung, prostate, head and neck cancers. However, overall there is only a modest improvement in survivorship when RT3D is compared with standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.
Professor Kevin Harrington and his team are investigating if a targeted drug could increase the effectiveness of RT3D and, when combined with standard therapy, could establish a radically more successful treatment for melanoma patients. The team first screened a panel of remarkable size and complexity which evaluated the biomarkers of melanoma against a combination of RT3D with 84 different kinds of targeted drugs. The results suggested RT3D would be most effective if combined with a PARP inhibitor, a targeted cancer drug that stops cancer cells from repairing themselves therefore leading to death. This novel combination that would not have been found without conducting such an exhaustive and thorough analysis.
The team saw promising results when the treatment combination was administered in basic models without an immune system. They are now hoping to see further success when the drug combination is introduced to models where an immune system is present. The team is aiming to publish their results this year and we look forward to sharing this with Melanoma Fund in due course.
The information gained from our pioneering study will be used to set up a Phase 1 clinical trial with melanoma patients. Our team aims to establish this innovative drug combination as a more effective way to slow tumour growth with little to no harmful side effects, thus enhancing survivorship and quality of life for patients. Ultimately, we hope to be able to expand the benefits of this treatment to help patients with a variety of cancer types that share the same biomarkers.
Next steps to continue driving forward progress
Immunotherapy drugs work by stimulating the body’s immune system so it can identify and attack cancer cells. We are at the forefront of research trialling immunotherapies and have already seen promising results for patients with melanoma as well as kidney, bladder, head and neck cancer.
Looking to the future, Professor Harrington is developing a study to build on the success of his virotherapy and targeted drug combination by adding an immunotherapy drug. This revolutionary treatment combination should not only shrink the tumour, but arm the immune system to recognise and attack the cancer cells if they regrow, thus preventing the cancer from returning and becoming life-threatening.
As a specialist cancer hospital with an international reputation for innovative research, we have a responsibility to continue driving forward advances in treatment to give the ever-growing number of melanoma patients a greater chance of being cured. We are making incredible progress and changing countless lives, but none of this is possible without donations from those who, like you, are passionate about making a difference and investing in a better future.
The gift from the Melanoma Fund funded our initial work to gather the proof we needed to unlock investment from pharmaceutical companies to continue our research. Thanks to you, we are working towards taking our learnings from the laboratory to translate the results into tangible benefits for patients.
On behalf of Professor Harrington and his team, and everyone at The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, please accept our gratitude for your support of this potentially life-changing research.