In April, Cancer Research Wales, pledged another £1.3M for new cancer projects. This brings the total money spent over the last 5 years for research in Wales to almost £7.5M. Below we take a look at several of these recently awarded projects and the benefits we hope they will bring cancer patients in the near future.
Interventional tool kit for GPs to Encourage More and Better Informed Referral for Patients with Suspected Cancer
An evidence based interventional tool-kit for primary care, developed by clinical researchers in North Wales, will this year, be tested for the first time in GP surgeries. Those practices that have the highest referral rates for suspected cancer consistently have improved outcomes, compared to those with lower rates of referral, however, cancer symptoms can be vague and common to other less serious conditions. The trial is designed to help GP surgeries better identify suspected cases of cancer and optimise the process of patient referral without causing anxiety and over diagnosis. Safety-netting policies and the training of practice cancer champions will form elements of this new trial, in addition to training staff at an all practice level. Over 30 selected surgeries across Wales will participate in the study in the first instance.
Development of Blood Test for Prostate Cancer to Help Overcome Limitations of PSA
The design of novel diagnostic tests for prostate cancer has been recognised as a priority area by NICE for future research due to the limitations of PSA for diagnosing prostate cancer. Especially for distinguishing aggressive cancers that may need urgent treatment from those that may need no treatment at all. This exciting project will see the development of a new-blood based test that relies on the detection of exosomes secreted by aggressive prostate tumours into the blood. Use will be made of a very valuable set of blood samples collected from the ground-breaking INNOVATE trial that used multi-parametric MRI to discriminate between high-grade prostate tumours and benign enlarged prostate glands or more indolent tumours. It is hoped the blood test as it is develops will become as good as the MRI scans at identifying aggressive tumours of the prostate.
Viral Trojan Horses to act as a New Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer
New treatments for pancreatic cancer are urgently needed as conventional cancer treatments remain largely ineffective, including the newer immunotherapy agents shown to be successful in the treatment of other solid tumours. Dr Alan Parker and his lab will receive funding to generate modified viruses that can selectively home in on, and infect pancreatic cancer cells. Once inside cancer cells, these viruses will manufacture potent anti-tumour agents that have been developed to target the key molecular defects that drive the progression of pancreatic tumours. The use of viruses to treat cancer is beginning to come of age with a number of clinical trials currently running. By the end of the study it is hoped the researchers will have produced a number of effective viral prototypes that can be fast-tracked into a clinical trial for pancreatic cancer.
Digital Platforms to Improve Symptom Control and the Patient Experience in Clinic
This project will be conducted by Dr Pasquale Innominato, working within Besti Cadwaladr University Health Board. Dr Innominato will investigate if user-friendly technologies can be adopted to create more streamlined processes during clinic time. While waiting in clinic, patients will be given the opportunity to use an electronic-tablet or iPad to complete e-questionnaires about their general health to ensure patient-clinician interactions are more efficient. The information captured will include factors such as fatigue, pain, sleep disturbance, anxieties, amongst other things. This holistic approach will serve to better structure consultation time and ensure all patient issues are addressed leading to better overall patient experiences. If successful this study will be expanded to include the testing of such digital platforms in patients homes to help create a multi-dimensional triage system.
A Boost for Early Clinical Research in North Wales
Research intensive Health Boards consistently demonstrate better outcomes. Combined with the fact that 25% of all medical oncologists in Europe are trained to PhD level, it becomes ever more important to upskill and train the talented oncologists we already have in Wales. Such a strategy will promote the introduction of the very latest scientific innovations into the clinical setting much earlier. The first Cancer Research Wales clinical PhD studentship will see Dr Nick Wreglesworth, a practicing oncologist, work on developing a clinical platform that will use cancer-testes antigens to help the right patients receive the right treatment at the right time. The project will focus on lung and bowel cancers, Wales’ two biggest causes of cancer mortality, with almost 3000 deaths from these alone.
Cancer Research Wales-ASTRA scheme to Accelerate Biomarker Driven Research
In partnership with the Wales Cancer Bank, Cancer Research Wales will launch an initiative to promote the use and analysis of patient samples in cancer research, meeting an unmet need within the Welsh research community. A series of studies will provide important insights into the biology and disease processes of cancer. It will also help with the identification of clinically useful biomarkers and the discovery of new drug targets against which novel therapies may be developed. Proof-of-principle studies that can be equally applied to larger population based studies.
Other projects funded include high-throughput drug screens for prostate cancer and computer-aided drug design for the development of a class of second-generation immunotherapy agents. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters across Wales, without whose help and generosity, none of the above would be possible.
Blog written by Dr Lee Campbell