18 Oct 2012

Cancer charity forced to turn down trials

Health and Social Care Correspondent

One of the world’s leading cancer charities has, for the first time, had to turn down requests to fund trials into potentially life-saving treatments, writes Victoria Macdonald.

Cancer Research UK has told Channel 4 News that it has, for the first time, had to turn down a trial on bladder cancer and another on mesothelioma, a form of cancer in the chest wall that affects 2,000 people in the UK every year.

Cancer Research UK tells Channel 4 News that it has, for the first time, had to turn down scientific trials because of a funding gap.

One of the world’s leading cancer charities has, for the first time, had to turn down requests to fund trials into potentially life-saving treatments.

The charity’s committee which decides on trial funding has a budget of approximately £10m a year of which most is tied up in ongoing trials. This year is has about £1.4m to spend on new trials and the two who have been turned down would cost £500,000 to fund.

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, said that it was not a matter of funding decreasing but of increasing numbers of trial applications and the fact that trials are far more complex than they used to be. “We can effectively fund 25 trials and in the November round we have 30 applications,”

Dr Law said the committee asked both the bladder cancer and mesothelioma trial applicants to see if they could find another funding source. If they could not, she said, then they could reapply for the November round. “But we already have more than we can fund for then,” she said.

First trial of its kind

Dr Law was speaking as details were released to Channel 4 News of the start of a phase two trial into a treatment for a form of muscle cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. It is the first trial of its kind, across five European countries, involving both adults and children with an age range from six months to 50.

About 100 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with this cancer. It is most often found in boys, for reasons that are not clear, and is most common in under five-year-olds with another peak in adolescents. But in England alone about 30 adults develop the disease.

Although it has a 70 per cent cure rate if it returns only around one in three patients respond to the current treatment with the chemotherapy drugs cincristine and irinotecan. For those where the cancer has not only returned but has also spread, the prognosis is even worse.

This trial, which is being led in the UK by doctors at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, will look at the effectiveness of adding in a third chemotherapy drug, temozolomide. Because it is phase two, it will measure toxicity and appropriate drug levels. Phase three will be to determine if it can help cure the cancer.

Dr Julia Chisholm, who is leading the trial at the Royal Marsden, said: “If successful, this trial will form the basis for a new standard treatment across Europe to which new targeted drugs can be added as they are developed.”