On October 31st, around 300 scientists; made up of our grantholders and co-workers; gathered together for a day packed full of exciting research updates and lively discussions surrounding blood cancer research. Biomarker discovery and development.
Biomarker discovery and development
First up, we heard from Dr Vikki Rand from Newcastle University of Leicester and Professor David Westhead from the University of Leeds on how biomarkers are being used to improve outcomes in aggressive lymphomas and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Dr Vikki Rand presented her research that is unraveling the biology of lymphoma in order to develop new and less toxic treatment strategies that will improve the outcome of hard to treat lymphomas. Professor David Westhead told us how he is using innovative ways to harness the wealth of data we have on aggressive lymphomas in order to predict outcomes and diagnosis. Finally, Professor Simon Wagner talked about how the activity of certain genes protects CLL cells from the effects of therapy, and how he is focusing on the protection that the surrounding bone marrow environment offers.
Cancer researchers of the future
After hearing from the leaders in the field, researchers in the early stages of their careers took the stage. Dr Sheela Abraham from the University of Glasgow, and Dr Matthew Blunt from the University of Southampton spoke about their Bloodwise-funded research that was been published a few months ago. Their research could lead to new drug targets in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), and overcome resistance to B-cell receptor (BCR) inhibitors drugs in CLL.
Dr Matthew Blunt presents his paper on overcoming IL-4 driven drug resistance in CLL.
The Trials Acceleration Programme
In the afternoon, we listened to an interesting overview of our Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) from Prof Charlie Craddock, University of Birmingham; Prof Paresh Vyas, the University of Oxford; and Prof Claire Harrison, Guy’s & St Thomas’.
TAP fast-tracks robustly designed early phase trials for promising new drugs or treatment approaches, accelerating the translation from lab to clinic. Prof Craddock said this was truly ‘a gold’ for clinical trials in the UK.
Prof Paresh Vyas reviewed the innovative approaches used in TAP clinical trials, that are allowing researchers to gain deep insight into the mechanisms of therapy response and resistance, and even gives us a picture of what is driving the disease. He also told us about the RAvVA trial, which is assessing if combining a chemotherapy called azacitidine with a biological therapy called vorinostat that blocks cancer growth, is better than azacitidine alone. The drugs are being tested in patients who are unable to tolerate intensive chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). We are very much looking forward to the reseults, which are expected soon.
Myeloproliferative disorders are rare blood cancers that cause abnormal clotting and bleeding, and can lead to more aggressive disease, such as myelofibrosis or leukaemia. We heard from Prof Claire Harrison, who told us how the MAJIC trial is investigating a drug called ruxolitinib to treat myeloproliferative disorders, and has just finished recruiting patients. Results are due at the end of next year, so watch this space!
In the afternoon, Dr Heather Long, University of Birmingham, Prof Persis Amrolia from The Institute of Child Health and Prof Emma Morris, UCL gave us a fascinating overview of their immunotherapy research.
Dr Heather Long told us about how she's developing immune-based therapies for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphomas, such as Burkitt lymphomas associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection as well as those that aren't. And Professor Amrolia presented his research on harnessing cells from the immune system to prevent leukaemia from returning after a stem cell transplant. Our final presentation was from Professor Emma Morris, UCL ,who talked about optimising the therapeutic potential of modified immune cells.
Prof Emma Morris talks about maximising the therapeutic potential
of T cell immunotherapy.
Annual guest lecture
Wrapping up the proceedings with our Guest Lecture, Dr Michel Sadelain from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York delivered a fantastic overview of how far we have come in T cell immunotherapy, and gave us a vision of the future. Lots of exciting immunotherapy trials are taking place, and some are funded by Bloodwise. These include a programme at King’s College London, which is using current immunotherapy techniques to prevent relapses that are common in AML, particularly in patients undergoing a stem cell transplant. We also support a large clinical trial called COBALT, led by Dr Karl Peggs at UCL, which is testing the re-engineered T-cell approach in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Students’ and Clinical Fellows’ Day
On 1st November, our PhD students and clinical research training fellows met to communicate their exciting research findings and develop ideas with each other. Students in their final year of their PhD presented their work, whilst first and second year students summarised their research in a poster.
Although this is a much smaller event than our Grandholders’ Day – with around 40 people attending – it gives our students and clinical fellows a valuable opportunity to hone their research presentation skills in a friendly and supportive environment.
What did we hear about?
Nine researchers presented a varied and fascinating programme of research, which could hold promise for patients with leukaemia, lymphoma, as well as rarer cancer types such as myeloproliferative neoplasms. After lunch, researchers who presented posters summarised their work in less than two minutes, and the floor was open for questions.
What really hit home was that our cancer researchers of the future are doing fantastic research that could have far reaching impact for people with blood cancer. We certainly will be following their progress with great interest.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the fantastic blood cancer research that Bloodwise are funding, thanks to your support. World-class research like this is making a real difference to people with blood cancer, but we still need to do more. Find out more on how you can ensure we continue to beat blood cancer.