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BBC programme highlights Bloodwise clinical trial

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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01 Feb 2018

BBC documentary Find Me a Cure follows the experiences of patients and doctors involved in the Bloodwise-funded CLARITY clinical trial for over a year. The programme will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 11am on Tuesday 6 February and will be available online shortly afterwards.

A collection of medical needles packaged together

CLARITY is led by Professor Peter Hillmen at St James’s University Hospital and looks at whether a combination of two targeted drugs, venetoclax and ibrutinib, is a safe and effective treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

Early results, announced at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in December 2017, showed that all patients had responded after six months of treatment and almost a half of these patients were in complete remission.

Ibrutinib is a type of drug called a Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which works by targeting and switching off a protein linked to cell growth and movement in the cancer cells. Venetoclax is also a highly targeted drug, but works in a different way to ibrutinib, in that it switches off proteins on cancer cells that help keep the cells alive.

The CLARITY trial is taking place at hospitals across the UK involved in our Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) network, organised from a central hub at the University of Birmingham. 50 people with CLL who had either relapsed or had not responded to previous treatment were recruited to the trial between May 2016 and July 2017.

Professor Peter Hillmen, who is running the trial at the Leeds Cancer Centre, said: “The response rates we have seen in patients after just six months of treatment have far exceeded what we would have expected, so these results are really encouraging.

“The CLARITY Trial has moved from concept to meaningful results extremely rapidly demonstrating the importance of the Bloodwise TAP initiative in enabling the UK to remain at the forefront in the development of new therapies for CLL and other blood cancers.”

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research at Bloodwise, said: “A number of exciting new drugs are becoming available for people with CLL but these treatments will not work in all cases and response rates can vary. The key is determining the right drugs for the right patients and in the right combinations.

“Further monitoring time will be needed to show if these highly promising early response rates to venetoclax and ibrutinib can lead to long lasting remission in patients. It is vital that we continue to look for new ways to improve outcome and extend survival times, particularly for those who have stopped responding to their treatment.”

Brian, a middle aged man, pictured at sitting on a sofa at home. Brian is a chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patient who has taken part in the Bloodwise-funded clinical trial CLARITY Brian (pictured above) has been on the CLARITY trial since December 2016

Brian, from Leeds, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2007 after a routine blood test. Before starting the CLARITY trial last year, he had a number of tumours over his body, including lumps in his neck and armpits, and levels of leukaemia cells in his blood were very high.

Brian said: “Since starting on the trial, the number of tumours in my body has shrunk and I can’t feel any lumps at all now. The level of leukaemia cells in my blood has consistently and rapidly dropped and the aim is to eradicate them completely. I’ve been able to keep working five and half days a week in my job as a motor mechanic and I don’t worry about the leukaemia – I can put it to the back of my mind.

“I might not still be here if it wasn’t for the CLARITY trial and I’m really grateful that I was able to go on it. It’s given me the chance to live the rest of my life with the disease under control, just by taking a few pills every day. There are so many trials going on for new treatments. You get the feeling that there is a cure around the corner, that there will always be another option available.”