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News digest – brain tumour awards, CAR T cell therapy, NHS ‘fast-tracking’ drugs and NICE decisions

by Ethan Meyers | Analysis

22 June 2019

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Illustration of a fridge with pictures of brains drawn by children stuck on

Boosting brain tumour research

A year on from the death of Baroness Tessa Jowell, the former Labour cabinet minister diagnosed with glioblastoma who campaigned for funding and support for brain tumours, 3 newly-funded brain tumour research teams have been assembled. Brain tumour survival has remained dismally low for years and our Brain Tumour Awards, in collaboration with The Brain Tumour Charity, will provide £18 million to the three teams. The Times explored one of these teams’ goals of delivering potential new drugs to the brain using nanotechnology.

For a complete look at what the teams have planned, check out our blog post.

CAR T cell therapy on the NHS

The BBC spoke to Mike Simpson, who says his lymphoma is ‘on the run’ thanks to a new personalised immunotherapy treatment. CAR-T cell therapy trains the patient’s own immune cells to recognise and destroy cancer cells. The treatment has been approved on the NHS for certain blood cancers but, according to Simpson – who became one of the first NHS patients to receive CAR T treatment after his cancer came back after chemo – the side effects can be worse than chemotherapy.

NHS to ‘fast track’ personalised cancer medicines

Various news outlets, including The Times and The Sun, are talking about new “revolutionary” cancer drugs. Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, said that he wants to ‘fast track’ a particular new breed of personalised cancer medicines known as ‘tumour-agnostic’. The theory is that these drugs can target any type of cancer as long as it carries a particular faulty gene. But the gene fault in question is rare, and clinical trials have so far only seen benefits in patients with rare cancer types. So, what happens next? The drugs are awaiting review by the National Institute of health and Care Excellence (NICE) and still need a European licence, so there is still a way to go before they are made available on the NHS.

Our blog post aims to provide some context to this week’s punchy headlines.

New treatment option on the NHS for some adults with leukaemia

In PharmaTimes this week, NICE approved the drug blinatumomab (Blincyto), meaning it will now be available on the NHS in England, Northern Ireland and Wales for patients with a particular type of leukaemia. Our news report has all the details on how the drug works, and why NICE chose to reverse an initial rejection.

Cancer not talked about enough in BAME communities

Bamidele Adenipekun, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, has been sharing her experiences with the BBC. She says that cancer and other illnesses are not talked about in some ethnic minority communities “due to fear”, which can lead to women feeling “isolated”. More research is needed to understand why for some people cancer remains taboo.

NHS still laboured by old tech

It’s not a new story: the NHS can fall short in the technology department. A new survey asked IT-related health sector workers about their experiences, and over one third said that they have asked for faster systems. Just over a third of those surveyed thought that NHS budgets were holding back tech upgrades. PharmaTimes has the details.

Women’s alcohol awareness and Scotland’s alcohol sales

Only one in five women surveyed at a selection of breast clinics knew that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, according to the BBC. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with 8% of cases linked to alcohol. The researchers in the study suggested using breast clinics and screening appointments as an opportunity to increase awareness about the link between alcohol and cancer, but more research is needed to see whether it would actually help reduce cancer risk.

In other alcohol related news, sales have fallen to their lowest on record in Scotland, according to the Mail Online. But the rate of deaths from alcohol-specific causes in both men and women has risen since 2012.

Fighting misinformation in science

Science is no stranger to misinformation, but there could be a way to combat it. Reported in an excellent article by Vox, a study found that when a press release exaggerated results, the news that covers that story would exaggerate too. The conclusion was that a potential method to combat misinformation could start with the Universities that put out the press releases.

And finally

A new study, reported in the Telegraph, found that men who eat two or more weekly servings of yoghurt could be less likely to develop growths which can lead to bowel cancer than those who never eat yoghurt. But this study wasn’t conclusive, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the effect of one food in our diet. The things we eat can affect our gut health and the bacteria in our gut, but it’s too early to say whether eating more yoghurt could reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

Our blog post looks at the exciting research that one of our teams is doing into the gut microbiome.