Beating blood cancers since 1960
by Matthew Kaiser 18th June 2015

Today’s research, tomorrow’s cures

As something of a science geek, I believe that science is not only the best way to make sense of the world, but also to overcome the biggest challenges in society.

And what's our challenge? To beat blood cancers.

So let’s do science to it.

Ask the experts

Our Research Committee met yesterday to pore over a stack of applications from some of the UK's leading blood cancer researchers. The scientists all want to carry out research, usually in the laboratory, to discover some of the biological nuts-and-bolts of blood cancers and to turn that knowledge into something to be used in the doctor's clinic for the benefit of patients. They’re all just at different stages along this path.

The Committee is made up of a group of UK and European (surely that's just European, then, Nigel?) scientists and clinicians, with diverse backgrounds and expertises. Their assessment is complemented and guided by the written evaluation of leading worldwide experts – the peer reviewers.

In this round, we started with 30 applications for project grants, plus a few applications to renew or extend a long-term programme grant. The Committee recommended funding for nine of the best project grants, and all but one of the programme grant applications. That's probably in the region of £3.7m, once Sara has cast her ruthless red pen over some of the costings.

Here are a couple of highlights.

The end of watch-and-wait?

Duncan Baird and his Cardiff colleagues have been funded by us to develop a test that can accurately predict at diagnosis which patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia will need treatment and which ones won't. If it works, this would give much more reassurance to doctors and patients about the most likely outcome of their diagnosis, allowing a more tailored treatment plan and potentially easing the psychological burden.

Their results are exciting enough not only to take it the next stage of development but also that venture capital investors have funded the formation of a new company to commercialise the test. They also have tentative results that the test could be adapted for other cancers.

After some proactive steering by Chris B, they applied to us for some lab expenses and lab technician's time to equip a testing facility, integrate it into an international distribution network and obtain a CE mark. Once this is done, the company can then take it through clinical testing and, if it brings improvements in patient outcome, potentially routine use in the clinic. And because of our seed investments up until now, we would receive royalties on any money generated from the commercialisation of the test.

Research, meet fundraising; Fundraising, meet research.

Tackling the biggest blood cancer killer

Myeloma is an incurable and ultimately fatal blood cancer. Our own Patient Need analysis has flagged it as the blood cancer that kills the most people. It is nearly always (if it not always always) preceded by the non-cancerous blood disorder known as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).

Not all patients with MGUS will develop myeloma – about 1 in 100 a year do – and we don’t know why only some patients with MGUS progress to myeloma. Claire Edwards and her team at Oxford suspect a high-fat diet might promote it through effects of raised cholesterol. She wants to test whether blocking these changes, either through change in diet or medication, can prevent or delay disease progression. This will be done with a combination of patient blood samples, studies on cells in the lab and mice with myeloma-like conditions.

This will aid potential approaches to delay progression from MGUS to myeloma and help identify those patients at greatest risk for progression from MGUS to myeloma.

Just call us Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance & Multiple Myeloma Research (and you thought 'Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research' was tricky to say)

This was one of two project applications on MGUS, and one of four on myeloma. The Committee recommended another for funding from Farhat Khanim and Shelly Lawson (of LLR photostock fame) to test whether already existing non-cancer drugs can be combined to create a potent anti-myeloma effect. Together with our recently awarded myeloma programme grant and first myeloma TAP trial, it seems word is getting out that we're open for business in this area.

Research, meet Patient Need; Patient Need, meet research.

There were more exciting projects, some souping up the immune system to attack lymphomas and others devising new precision medicine strategies for acute myeloid leukaemia (Patient Need again!). These will all now go to the Board of Trustees for its sign-off.

All coming soon to a blog post (and learning lunch) near you.