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Manchester scientists take on cancer with pioneering radiotherapy treatment

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Manchester scientists are testing an emerging therapy called radioimmunotherapy (RIT) in early phase clinical trials, according to a presentation at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham today (Wednesday).

The trial group, led by Professor Tim Illidge at the University of Manchester has benefited substantially from Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) investment by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research to emerge as an international leader in this field.

Radioimmunotherapy works by tagging an antibody to a radioisotope molecule to deliver radiotherapy straight to the tumour. The antibodies act as the ‘delivery vehicles’ which transport the radiotherapy to precisely target the tumour. This improves accuracy, avoids damaging healthy cells and reduces side effects such as tiredness and sore skin.

The Manchester group is investigating the replacement of some sessions of chemotherapy treatment with radioimmunotherapy (RIT).

An exciting development is using RIT for the first time in previously untreated slow-growing Non Hodgkin lymphoma. The trial involves collaboration with sites in the UK and France and has already recruited 50 patients. The initial results look highly promising with excellent clinical responses. The trial is ongoing and it is hoped if successful may enable some patients to potentially avoid chemotherapy as a first treatment in the future.

One phase II trial called SHRIFT (Short CHemotherapy Radioimmunotherapy In Follicular Lymphoma Trial) is being run through the ECMC network and has recruited 28 patients already. It is investigating the potential of reducing the exposure to chemotherapy by replacing cycles of treatment with (RIT) in people with follicular lymphoma who have relapsed after initial standard treatments.

A further phase II trial of around 20 patients is exploring the use of radioimmunotherapy treatment in people who have recently been diagnosed with a type of aggressive lymphoma called large B cell lymphoma – and who have not yet received any treatment.

Cancer Research UK’s Professor Tim Illidge, trial group head said: “The trials we are running though the ECMCs have shown positive results. The people on the trials are coping with the new treatments well, which is promising. They experience fewer of the side effects associated with normal systemic chemotherapy such as hair loss, sickness and bowel upsets.

“It is a highly efficient treatment and allows patients to have a good quality of life with minimal disruption.”

There are 19 specialist Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres in the UK. The aim of these centres is to bring together cancer doctors, research nurses and lab scientists to make the testing of new treatments in clinical trials quicker and easier.

The ECMC funding in Manchester has enabled development of these trials alongside translational research in conjunction with work with Professor Caroline Dive’s group at the Paterson Institute and key collaborations including other ECMCs and centres in France and Italy.

Dr Sally Burtles, director of centres at Cancer Research UK, said: “It is very encouraging that radioimmunotherapy is having good results in patient trials.

“Making the leap from something that looks promising in the laboratory to testing it in patients is one of the most challenging and expensive steps in drug development – and this is the key reason why we’ve committed to establishing these Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres – to speed up this process and bridge that gap.

“The 19 Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres across the UK give cancer patients new opportunities to participate in early trials for the latest, most innovative and exciting anti-cancer treatments in development.”