Tablets trialled at The Christie give terminal cancer patient new lease of life

When Eliana Keeling from Chorlton in Manchester was told she had 2 months to live, a referral to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester seemed her only hope.

Eliana, 65, a retired teacher of English as a foreign language, had undergone 2 intensive cycles of chemotherapy as a standard treatment at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI), part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, starting on Christmas day 2020, to rid her body of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Unfortunately, this didn’t work and by the end of May 2021 Eliana received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal. 

With no other options left, Eliana was offered the opportunity to be part of experimental research in a phase I (early phase) clinical trial at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. In June 2021. Eliana began a clinical trial at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at The Christie. 

The trial used a novel targeted cancer treatment which exploits a chemical weakness in the leukaemia cells. The Phase I (early phase) international trial combines a drug already used called azacytidine, with a new experimental drug which as yet doesn’t have a name. The theory behind the study is that the experimental drug, in tablet form, makes the conventional drug, which is given by injection, work more effectively. 

After 6 months on the trial Eliana’s body was cancer free, so she was able to then have a bone marrow transplant. She has been in remission ever since. 

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. It’s characterised by the rapid growth of abnormal blood cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells. AML is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. Still, AML is fairly rare overall, accounting for only about 1% of all cancers. AML is generally a disease of older people and is uncommon before the age of 45. The average age of people when they are first diagnosed with AML is about 68. 

Eliana had been a fit and healthy regular gym-goer, who enjoyed active holidays when a blood test discovered the cancer.

Eliana, who has just celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with husband John, explained, “When I was told the chemo hadn’t worked and I had a couple of months to live, I knew there was no way I was going to accept that. It was as if a huge hole had opened in my world and everything planned disappeared in an instant. The Christie is the best thing that happened to me. I enjoy going there, which is crazy, because who likes going to hospital? Everything is always explained to me and you are treated like a human being and not just a statistic. Every member of staff is incredible. I’ve now been given a new lease of life thanks to research, and feel like The Christie has worked a miracle.” 

Dr Emma Searle, consultant haematologist at The Christie, whose post is funded by The Christie charity said: “Eliana had a poor prognosis and her only chance was the clinical trial and bone marrow transplant for long term survival. We’re really pleased Eliana had such a good response and is now leukaemia free. Given she had a very limited life expectancy when the chemotherapy failed to work, this is an excellent result for her. Not all our trial patients who have AML respond as well as Eliana did, but we are grateful to every patient and relative that feels able to support research here at The Christie. Trials are so important to make progress in treating cancer.
“The Christie charity has been instrumental in setting up our team that offers experimental treatments to patients with blood cancers where standard treatments aren’t working for them.”

Last updated: September 2022