Few of us realise that blood cancer is the third biggest killer after lung and bowel cancers. Leading charity Bloodwise takes us through the latest advances.
“Overall, it’s about developing targeted therapies, down to the genetic and molecular level in individuals, and tailoring treatment,” says Diana Jupp, CEO of Bloodwise. “We need more treatments, and less toxic treatments.”
The UK has an incredibly well-established blood cancer community and often leads international research ventures which in turn are informing new treatments in blood and other cancers, she says.
We’ve been improving outcomes since the 1960s and have greatly improved survival rates.
“Most people don’t realise blood cancer is the biggest cancer killer after lung and bowel. We’ve been improving outcomes since the 1960s and have greatly improved survival rates, but there’s a lot of work to be done now in making treatments less toxic as well as continuing to increase survival.”
While it’s easier to study the cancer because blood samples can be extracted, it’s very complex getting to the right information, says Jupp. “There might be different cells driving the cancer in the same sample, which affects the disease’s evolution and treatment. We found out in blood cancer first that cancer is very diverse.”
photo credit: Bloodwise
Trials, triumphs, tech
At any given time, Bloodwise has over £90 million invested in research, and is currently funding over 1,000 researchers and clinicians involved in 200 active research projects.
Research will always be the leading focus, and “we want to help people affected right now by developing kinder treatments that improve patients’ quality of life,” says Jupp.
The use of targeted tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) has been a game-changer for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML): “What used to be a very aggressive blood cancer can now be managed with a single tablet. However, it’s not a cure, and many patients find side effects like fatigue prevent them leading an everyday life. TKIs don’t kill the cancer’s master cells, which although are only present in tiny amount, can constantly seed new CML cells. A new programme targeting those cells has eradicated the disease altogether in mice. We want to get it to clinical trials in people. In time, it could offer a cure for CML.”
Anticipation is also high for the results of a trial focused on improving quality of life for CML patients by reducing their medication.
One-year data suggests that people with CML who were responding well to their TKI were able to safely reduce TKI side effects by cutting their dose in half, and the vast majority did not see their CML return after cutting their dose. The two-year data from the DESTINY trial is due to be announced at the European Hematology Association conference at the end of June.
“Technology is playing an important role in our work: we have a new virtual platform that allows researchers easy access to CML patient samples; and the childhood leukaemia cell bank is used to make important new discoveries about how leukaemia develops and has improved ways of managing the disease in children.
“I’ve been working in the cancer charity sector for over 20 years, and the progress in our understanding of cancer and our ability to treat it has been astonishing. The UK is a global leader in blood cancer research, and Bloodwise will continue to play a major role in developing new and innovative treatments.”