Targeted cancer therapy delivers dramatic results

New hope is on the horizon for patients with advanced cancer following encouraging result from a recent clinical trial.

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The clinical trial behind the results

Researchers from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Londons The Institute of Cancer Research, and colleagues from 56 other medical centres throughout Europe and Australia, recruited 946 patients in a third phase of this clinical trial to assess the use of the drug Imatinib on a specific advanced cancer, known as gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST). Results showed that 10% of patients are still being treated with Imatinib after 10 years without any further advancements to their cancer.

One participant in the trial, 73-year-old Howard Harrison, was recruited for the study in 2001 when his GIST spread. His initial outlook was two years with untreatable cancer, but the study resultantly enabled him to have a better quality of life, extended for over 10 years.

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The roots of the research

Imatinib, or Glivec as its also known, is a targeted drug designed to attack particular proteins that are cancerous. While it was first on the market around 15 years ago and showed positive effects for leukaemia patients, this trial suggests its benefit in inhibiting tyrosine kinases, a molecule that enables some specific cancers to grow.

The first part of the study was conducted by the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), who first recruited patients on the trial between 2001-2002. It was discovered that a subgroup of patients with a particular KIT gene mutation, which is among one of Imatinibs targets, benefitted from an increased dose of the drug in terms of disease control and life span, showing no signs of drug resistance.

The future of targeted cancer treatment for patients

The study is heartening, as it suggests the successful use of the drug without the cancer becoming resistant. As GISTs are usually diagnosed in their more advanced stages,, Imatinib could be incredibly beneficial going forward.

Trials are likely to continue in scope and frequency, and there is an increasing demand for quality patient recruitment servicessuch as

The UK lead on the research, Professor Ian Judson, notes that more investigation needs to be done regarding the genetics of those who have survived and benefited for so many years on the drug.


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