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Blood cancer patients are dying while potentially life-saving drugs sit on the shelf

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16 May 2011

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research today launch a unique network of clinical trial centres with access to up to £50 million worth of new life-saving drugs, in response to current poor survival rates for many types of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.  

The number of people dying from blood cancers, which have traditionally been seen as rarer cancers, is now slightly higher than breast and prostate cancer. The network, central to the charity’s vision to deliver ‘Trials Acceleration Programme’, will link 13 leading hospitals* across the UK, with a hub at the University of Birmingham. Here a team is already in place to manage and co-ordinate world class clinical trials that will speed up delivery of new treatments to blood cancer patients.

Blood cancers are the most common cause of cancer deaths in the under 35s, with new figures released by the charity showing that over 12,000 people still die of blood cancers each year. With some notable exceptions, survival rates have improved very little for most forms of blood cancer in the last decade.**

There are so many different blood cancers that it has often been seen as uneconomical to develop drugs for many types. When new drugs are available, often clinical trials are not set up because of the difficulties of recruiting enough patients at a single hospital to make them workable. Those that do get off the ground can take as long as 10 years to complete.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Clinical Trials Adviser, Professor Charlie Craddock, Director of the Centre for Clinical Haematology run by the University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, said: “Every doctor will tell you that they are routinely turning down promising new drugs because they don’t have the resources to conduct early stage clinical trials. We have a moral case for getting new drugs out there as soon as possible – if you have a relative with a blood cancer, you don’t want life-saving treatment available in ten years, you want it now.”

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research has provided a strategic solution to the problem by investing £2.3 million in the innovative clinical trials network, which will see trials completed within two years of being given funding. Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research are working with pharmaceutical companies and NHS hospitals to bring up to £50 million of promising new drugs to patients over the next two years through the network, which will create up to 500 jobs. The first trials are expected to be entered into the network by the end of the year. It is hoped that it will also provide a model for improving treatment for other rarer diseases and cancers.   

Cathy Gilman, Chief Executive of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Thanks to 50 years of investment in research by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, a lot is known about the basic biology of blood cancers. We are now in a better position than ever to accelerate the translation of this wealth of knowledge from the laboratory to the bedside. The clinical trial process currently lacks a systematic national approach. Our investment will set in place a unique infrastructure to co-ordinate world class trials and deliver ‘Trials Acceleration Programme’ - giving more blood cancer patients a future.”

Dr Russell Hamilton, Department of Health Director of Research & Development, said "The goal of delivering the newest and most promising blood cancer treatments to patients faster is something that we strongly support. Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research’s clinical trials network is a great model for the sort of partnership between charities and the NHS which can lead to real improvements in treatment. The NIHR Clinical Research Network will provide the required NHS support for this research.”

Ex-England and Crystal Palace footballer Geoff Thomas, who himself was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2003, has been campaigning with Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to set up the network. Thomas, who has been in remission after a bone marrow transplant performed by Professor Charlie Craddock and his team, said: “I was incredibly lucky, but many of the people I met in hospital did not survive. There are still far too many young people dying from blood cancers while life-saving drugs sit on the shelf. This new network is a major step towards beating blood cancers.” 


*Centres participating in the clinical trials network: 
Southampton General Hospital, St. Bartholomew's Hospital (London), The Christie (Manchester), King's College Hospital (London), St James's University Hospital (Leeds), Hammersmith Hospital (London), Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Birmingham), Belfast City Hospital, The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre (Glasgow), Royal Liverpool University Hospital, University Hospital of Wales (Cardiff), John Radcliffe Hospital (Oxford), Nottingham University Hospital

**Figures from the Yorkshire & Humberside Haematology Research Networktwork