Scottish actor Sam Heughan, star of hit TV series Outlander, has announced that this year’s “My Peak Challenge” campaign has raised a staggering £225,000 ($299,000) for blood cancer charity Bloodwise. The money will help fund a clinical trial that is testing a hugely promising way to treat one of the most aggressive forms of blood cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
36-year-old Sam enlisted the help of various partners to launch the second campaign of its kind back in January. Participants were tasked with completing their chosen challenge - from a personal health and fitness target, to learning new skills or taking up a new hobby – during the month of May to raise funds for the charity that Sam has been a staunch supporter of for a number of years.
Thanks to generous donations and sponsorship from people all over the world, combined with sales of the official supporter pack and ‘Prep Programme’ - a 60-day fitness and nutrition online tool - two thirds of the AML clinical trial at the University of Oxford will be funded by My Peak Challenge. The trial, which is testing the drug that was developed in collaboration with Stanford University in California, will for the first time be tested in leukaemia patients.
New Galloway-born Sam says: “My Peak Challenge has created a special community which has led to a real sense of camaraderie between people across the globe, supporting one another to achieve their personal goals, all whilst helping to raise so much money for Bloodwise.
“It’s been brilliant to see this campaign evolve and I am thrilled by the amount it has raised for the charity. Participants have achieved amazing results and broadened their horizons. This will have such an impact on blood cancer research and help improve the lives of patients with one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. We hope to do even more in the future.”
The innovative clinical trial at the University of Oxford which My Peak Challenge will fund is using the body’s natural defence system to fight leukaemia, in the same way it would fight an infection. Doctors working on the trial have found that any AML cells that remain in the body after chemotherapy protect themselves from being engulfed by immune cells by sending out ‘don’t eat me’ signals, which prevent them from being attacked.
The new drug is an antibody – the fighter molecules of the immune system – that has been engineered to block the main ‘don’t eat me’ signal found in many cancers including AML.
Doctors hope the drug is not only safe enough for patients but will enable patients’ own immune systems to effectively hunt down and kill the cancer cells and, importantly, act as a defence against the cancer returning.
Professor Paresh Vyas, who is leading the “Camellia” clinical trial at the University of Oxford and is working in collaboration with US colleagues at Stanford University, said: “Survival rates for acute myeloid leukaemia are currently very low and more effective treatments are desperately needed. We’re delighted that Sam has given his support to this clinical trial, which represents a hugely promising new way of tackling the disease and could transform the outlook for many patients.”
Anna Mamwell who was diagnosed with AML in April 2015, achieved over 8,000 views of her cancer-journey blog as part of her awareness-raising ‘Peak Challenge’. She said:
“As an AML patient, words cannot express how thankful I am to those people who’ve taken part in My Peak Challenge and helped raise so much money for a project that has the ability to really make a difference to the way we treat patients with this disease.”
Cathy Gilman, Chief Executive of Bloodwise, added: “The global support for My Peak Challenge has been extraordinary, and we are incredibly grateful to all the ‘Peakers’ around the world for their energy and enthusiasm in raising funds and awareness for Bloodwise.
“Our thanks must also go to Sam, Bear Strength Clothing, Fight Camp and AIM Media for creating something special that is going to have such a positive impact on blood cancer patients.”
There are already plans underway for My Peak Challenge 2017 so watch this space...