Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in Scotland in a medical family and always wanted to work in a job that helped improve care for people who are unwell. I studied at the University of Glasgow, then got my PhD in immunology at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.
I spent ten years working as a scientist and for the last fifteen years I’ve been working for medical research charities, including Cancer Research UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and most recently as Director of Research for Diabetes UK.
What excites you about blood cancer research today?
The remarkable rate of progress! Blood cancer research is at the forefront of cancer research, and UK research leads the way. I’ve worked with Bloodwise as a partner for many years and I’ve seen that wherever there are new technological innovations and treatment approaches, you’ll usually find them turned into new blood cancer treatments.
It’s crucial that we raise as much money as possible, to get the best treatment for patients in the UK, and because we have a responsibility to keep on leading world-class research in blood cancer and cancer as a whole.
Can you tell us about Bloodwise’s latest research grants?
To have the greatest impact for the people who need it most, our recent research grants have included many grants in (but not exclusive to) these three areas:
Firstly, the biggest targets – five conditions which make up 70% of the total lives lost to blood cancer. We’ve just approved £3.6 million of new grants to develop innovative therapies for myeloma and acute myeloid leukaemia; we’re trialling new targeted drugs in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients; and we granted £1.1 million to understand the biology and improve treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes.
Secondly, pre-cursor conditions. These are conditions that precede a blood cancer – such as myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) which can progress to acute myeloid leukaemia, and monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS), which almost all myeloma patients have first. We’ve invested £254,000 to improve our understanding of these conditions, so that we can work to stop aggressive blood cancers before they even develop.
Thirdly, we’re tackling early deaths. For some blood cancers, such as acute myeloid leukaemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a large proportion of deaths that do occur do so within the first three months post-diagnosis. We’ve renewed funding of our research network in York to understand more about why these early deaths occur, so we can develop interventions to tackle this serious issue and improve overall survival rates.
Have there been any major breakthroughs or new areas of interest in the wider research community?
There’s a huge amount of excitement about how scientists are reprogramming a person’s immune cells to recognise and kill cancer, either using a patient’s own immune cells or taking them from a healthy donor. This can launch a very specific and long-lasting anti-cancer attack with few side effects – in contrast to more traditional treatments such as chemotherapy. There have been impressive results in children with leukaemia, and we’re looking at applying it to lymphomas, myeloma and other leukaemias.
What’s the latest on our Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP)?
To date, 16 early stage trials have been taken into the programme: eight trials are open, four have been completed and over 650 patients have been recruited, which means they’ve had access to potentially life-saving new drugs. We’re grateful for the support of eight pharmaceutical companies, who have supplied almost £100 million worth of drugs free of charge.
Our new TAP website will be live soon, making it easier for researchers to collaborate and access the information they need, and easier for patients to find trials that they could benefit from. The future of the programme is looking very promising and ultimately that means more patients get access to the best treatments, so more lives are saved.
I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming months and years. With your continued generosity, we will beat blood cancer. It’s such an exciting time to be involved.
£12 a month could pay for a nurse to support the trails in one of our TAP centres, giving patients access to potentially life-saving drugs that wouldn't otherwise have been available to them.