New cancer "cruise missile" drug targets tumour

Manchester cancer research team lead ground-breaking study into lymphoma treatment

Remarkable results of a clinical trial of a new drug that could offer a breakthrough treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the fifth most common cancer, have been announced at an international cancer conference in Switzerland.

The drug consists of an antibody linked to a ‘warhead’ which seeks out tumours and destroys them. This targeted treatment was shown to be effective in patients with an advanced form of the disease. 

Professor John Radford, who is Director of Research at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Medical Oncology at The University of Manchester, presented results of this international research at the ICML-15 meeting in Lugano on Thursday 20 June. The drug was generally well tolerated with 44% of all 129 patients recruited to the trial responding to the treatment with partial or complete remission. In older patients response rates were even better with 52% of patients aged 65-74 and 59% of patients aged 75 or older responding.

Professor John Radford
Professor John Radford

Patients with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which had returned after previous standard treatment, were recruited to the study across 11 large cancer centres in the UK, US and Italy.  The Christie was the top UK recruiter to the trial and second largest globally, with 25 patients. 

The drug known as ADCT-402 (ADC Therapeutics, Lausanne, Switzerland) was given intravenously once every 3 weeks.  The trial in Manchester took place in the NIHR Clinical Research Facility at The Christie, part of the UK wide Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre Network.

Sophia Nabi, a 47 year old mother and customer services advisor from Stretford in Manchester, discovered she had non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014 when she was hospitalised with pneumonia caused by the cancer. After two and a half years in remission following first line chemotherapy the cancer came back and unfortunately second line treatment proved ineffective.

“They told me there was nothing more they could offer me. That was a tough day.” Sophia said. “I then got a call from The Christie and I was given the opportunity to go on a new trial. I thought, well I have nothing to lose, so I agreed. The drug was a lot kinder to me than the chemotherapy which had affected me so badly that I could barely tolerate it. After being given this new drug I was eating, laughing and walking. I was tired but not like I had been with the chemo. I can’t thank The Christie enough for what they have done for me. I feel very lucky.”

Sophia had four doses of the treatment which she completed in December 2017 and she has been in continuous remission ever since.  

Professor John Radford said: “This was a very early trial of the drug so we didn’t know if patients would find it tolerable, let alone if it would work, so these results are very exciting. It has made a dramatic difference to the condition of some of our patients such as Sophia, whose prognosis was extremely poor. Relapsed aggressive lymphoma is very difficult to treat and for a long time we have been looking for effective options. There has been a worldwide effort to make a breakthrough, so these results are extremely encouraging. We still need to do further trials but this drug could change the way we treat the disease.”

Approximately 14,000 people a year are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the UK, a disease that starts in the infection-fighting cells of the immune system.

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust was the first specialist trust to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ twice (in 2016 and 2018) by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It referred to The Christie as ‘a leader in cancer care’ and ‘a pioneer in developing innovative solutions to cancer care.’ The CQC praised the Trust’s staff which it said ‘go the extra mile to meet the needs of patients and their families’ and that they were ‘exceptionally kind and caring.’ In 2017, the CQC rated The Christie as the best specialist trust in the country, and one of the top three trusts overall in England

Last updated: June 2019

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