Shamyla Siddique leads our Trials Acceleration Programme and is the Haematology Trials Team Leader at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) at the University of Birmingham.
What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial is a scientific study that compares the best current drugs that are being used by patients against those that might be better. Every year, hundreds of blood cancer patients take part in trials, which look for new treatment options and aim to improve existing treatments. Thanks to clinical trials, there have been some amazing breakthroughs in blood cancer treatment over the last 40 years. But these trials are really complex – they’re expensive to run and they need lots of support to make sure they run safely and smoothly.
What is TAP and why is it exciting?
Bloodwise set up a network of leading treatment centres around the UK, which is coordinated in the central hub in Birmingham where I work. There’s so much work involved in a clinical trial – there are safety regulations we have to abide by, lots and lots of paperwork to do, and we have to recruit lots of patients from across the country, and then coordinate all their treatments and appointments. And once a trial is over our work isn’t done – then we’re up against a deadline to collect the data and write a report on our findings so we can keep learning from each and every trial we do.
Rather than each research centre and hospital doing all this work individually, TAP handles it all, allowing us to speed up the trial process and get more patients into more ground-breaking studies to find new treatments. Some of these new drugs and therapies could revolutionise how people with blood cancer are treated.
What difference has TAP made to blood cancer patients?
Having TAP means we’re able to find out about promising new ideas and get clinical trials up and running more quickly. Before TAP, a researcher could have an idea, but might not have everything they needed to run a clinical trial – like access to a hospital and research nurses, or knowledge of safety regulations and reporting rules.
This meant that good ideas for new treatments weren’t being explored. But now, a researcher can come to TAP and we’ll give them all the support they need to see if their idea is better for patients than what the current treatment delivers, either in terms of survival rates or patients’ quality of life.
What inspires you about TAP?
The ideas our researchers are coming up with have the potential to be effective and to change lives. We just need more money so that we can test them and bring them to patients more quickly.
One story in particular inspires me and my team to work harder every day. We had one man whose acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) came back after he’d had the all clear. He had a stem cell transplant – one of the only treatments that can be effective for someone whose AML has returned – but sadly it didn’t work and he died.
Before he passed away, we were drawing up the plan for a new trial to test a treatment that might have helped him. We worked night and day, through our holidays, to make that trial happen in time so he could have the new treatment. But unfortunately we just couldn’t get it done quick enough to save him. When we got that specific trial up and running, the treatment worked.
He was only 40, and he had two teenage daughters: he had to tell them that there weren’t many options left for him. That’s just not acceptable. It’s not good enough. We vowed to never stop until the day that no one has to say that to their friends and family.
How have Bloodwise helped get TAP up and running?
We wouldn’t be here without Bloodwise. 600 patients have had access to new treatments thanks to TAP – without these new treatments, they wouldn’t be here either. Bloodwise are funding 15 new trials, which means 15 potential new treatments that really could transform the way we treat people with blood cancer.
What change do you want to see for blood cancer patients?
I want to see blood cancer gone, with a cure for every disease. And I want less toxic treatments with fewer side effects. The basics are there – treatments like stem cell transplants can save people’s lives – but we just need money to fund research to tweak them and make them as effective as possible.
£12 a month, over a year, could help pay for a nurse to support the trials in one of our TAP centres, holding the hands of patients every step of the way. We need your support to keep finding new treatments. You can donate here.
You can read 'Together We Can' our 2015 supporter newsletter, here.