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Cancer Research UK launch national children’s cancer trials team in Birmingham

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by Cancer Research UK | News

16 April 2010

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Birmingham will be at the forefront of developments in childhood cancer research thanks to the launch of a new team which will co-ordinate groundbreaking clinical trials across the UK.

The Cancer Research UK Children’s Cancer Trials Team at the University of Birmingham will play a major role in the development of new treatments for childhood cancers.

Clinical trials are essential to develop new treatments for cancer by testing the latest drugs and discovering the best ways to use both new and existing treatments. Currently around 60 per cent of children with cancer are on a trial in the UK and this high level of participation in clinical research has had a major impact on the development of successful treatment strategies used today.

A combination of research and clinical trials has made a huge difference in the number of children surviving cancer. Today, three quarters of children are successfully treated, compared with just a quarter in the 1960s.

From its launch the team will be co-ordinating 10 clinical trials* and they aim to open at least two more new trials this year. The trials take place in 21 children’s cancer treatment centres across the UK and Ireland**.

Dr Pam Kearns, senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham and paediatric oncologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital who will lead the new team, said: “We’re delighted that our team can start work on delivering a series of clinical trials which will hopefully bring real benefits to many children with cancer across the UK. While we have made great progress increasing the number of children who survive childhood cancer it’s through trials of new treatments that we can help even more children beat the disease.”

Each year around 1,500 children are diagnosed with the cancer and leukaemia in the UK and it claims around 300 lives.

The trials coordinated by the team will increase each year as new trials are designed and receive funding.

Each year Cancer Research UK will invest over £700,000 for the core running of the team and will provide extra funding for individual trials. The team will sit within the existing Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham, allowing them to draw on the world-class expertise at the centre.

Professor Philip Johnson, director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham, said: “At the University of Birmingham, we have a strong track record in the design and implementation of clinical trials. This new team will galvanise our offering by enabling us to reach cancer sufferers of all ages, rapidly taking cutting edge science from the laboratory to the bedside. We also want to use our expertise to design trials for rarer cancers where it can be harder to recruit enough participants, using innovative trial design and joining international trials.”

Teegan Lyn-Kew’s family know only too well the importance of clinical trials work. The three-year-old from Tipton, Dudley, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma in July last year after complaining of stomach pains.

Tests at Birmingham Children’s Hospital showed she had a free-floating tumour at the front of her stomach. Only two other children in the world have been diagnosed with this type of tumour in that part of the body.

“I lost my mum to cancer so my first thought was that we would lose Teegan as well,” said dad Chris. “Her tumour was about the same size of a bag of sugar so she looked like she was pregnant. After the first three blocks of chemotherapy the tumour had shrunk by half which was great news.”

Teegan had more chemotherapy before undergoing surgery to remove the tumour on December 22 last year. She recovered so well that she was able to return home on December 23 in time for Christmas. Another two blocks of chemotherapy followed and recent scans have shown the tumour has completely disappeared.

Teegan’s treatment has involved participation in a clinical trial called RMS2005. The first question researchers are trying to answer is whether patients given an additional drug within the first ten weeks of treatment will benefit. The second question is whether patients will benefit from a further six months of less intensive chemotherapy after surgery and completing the standard chemotherapy treatment.

“We’re amazed at how well she’s done,” said Chris. “It’s fantastic that Birmingham is going to be the new co-ordinating centre for clinical trials as it will mean more children like Teegan will benefit.”

Kate Law, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer Research UK is the largest single funder of children’s cancer research and trials in the country and the launch of this new team demonstrates our total commitment to ensuring more children survive cancer with the fewest possible side effects.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.