‘Very promising’ findings in new treatment for blood cancer

NUI Galway and Blood Cancer Network team up to find treatment for multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer stemming from a white blood cell called a plasma cell. Photograph: NUI Galway

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer stemming from a white blood cell called a plasma cell. Photograph: NUI Galway

 

Scientists working at Galway’s university have described as “very promising” trials of a new treatment for people newly diagnosed with a serious blood cancer.

Blood Cancer Network Ireland (BCNI) led by Professor Michael O’Dwyer in NUI Galway recently completed the first Phase I clinical trial study on patients with multiple myeloma and the findings were published on Friday evening in the scientific journal, Blood Advances.

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer stemming from a white blood cell called a plasma cell. It normally produces antibodies to fight infection but in multiple myeloma the cells become cancerous.

Myeloma impairs the production of red blood cells leading to anaemia and damage to the bones and kidneys. Each year in Ireland around 250 people are diagnosed with the cancer with 170 succumbing to the disease.

Irish patients with multiple myeloma were the first patients in the world to take part in the drug trial to develop a more effective treatment.

The trial investigated whether the addition of a new multiple myeloma treatment to a standard care chemotherapy would be beneficial for newly diagnosed patients. It was able to show that the combination of treatments was “very beneficial and well tolerated by patients”.

It found that 17 of 18 patients achieved a very good response to the therapy and over 50 per cent of all patients achieved excellent responses.

Combination

The investigators were able to say that the reason for the excellent results was that the combination of the two treatments activated the immune system, increasing its ability to kill the cancer cells. The success of this early Phase I trial suggests this combination of treatments should be further evaluated for the treatment of patients who are newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

“These results justify the faith and investment placed in BCNI investigators by Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society and the critical funding and support provided by Janssen, without which this trial would not have been possible,” Prof O’Dwyer said.

“This new regimen, which is highly effective, safe and convenient has the potential to become an important new treatment option for patients with multiple myeloma. A European trial, which will include Irish patients, hopes to confirm the superiority of this treatment over current standard treatment, and will be launched shortly.

Co-author of the study, Dr Aideen Ryan, lecturer and researcher in tumour immunology at NUI Galway, said the study had been “a great opportunity to integrate our immunology expertise with clinical trial data to understand how these new drug combinations may enhance anti-tumour immune responses in patients with multiple myeloma.”

The trial is the first homegrown investigator-initiated trial to be conducted by BCNI and is the culmination of collaborative research efforts between BCNI scientists and Janssen pharmaceuticals.

Investment

Irish patients on this trial received access to some treatment which would not have been possible without it and it saved the taxpayer approximately €4 million in drug costs.

Dr Robert O’Connor, head of cancer research at the Irish Cancer Society said the latest findings “highlight the importance of investing in world class innovative cancer research in Ireland”.

“We’re truly grateful for the generous public donations without which we couldn’t make such strategic investments and we thank the patients who have taken part and contributed to research like this which has huge potential to significantly improve the lives of future cancer patients.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government hailed it as a “good example of how research collaborations between scientists, physicians, patients and companies can lead to positive outcomes resulting in better treatment options for patients”.