Sep 27 2016 Posted: 13:04 IST

Tuesday 27 September 2016: An Irish patient with the blood cancer ‘multiple myeloma’ has become the first in the world to take part in a new drug trial for patients with the disease who respond poorly to standard treatment.

The clinical trial, looking at a new medicine called GMI-1271, is being run by Blood Cancer Network Ireland and has recently recruited its first patient in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, under the supervision of Dr John Quinn, Consultant Haematologist and Associate Investigator with Blood Cancer Network Ireland.

Blood Cancer Network Ireland is a €2.7 million cancer research and clinical trials initiative funded by the Irish Cancer Society and Science Foundation Ireland which brings together clinicians, scientists, and population health experts across Galway, Cork and Dublin with a shared interest in blood cancer research.

The drug was first tested in Ireland, the US and Australia in patients with acute myeloid leukaemia and early results are very promising for treating patients with this form of blood cancer. Blood Cancer Network Ireland will now lead the way in evaluating whether the therapy is also effective in patients with multiple myeloma.

Blood cancer is an umbrella term for cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood arising from a type of white blood cell which is called a plasma cell. Plasma cells normally produce antibodies which help fight infection. In myeloma the plasma cells become cancerous and are called myeloma cells. These can produce an excess of a single antibody which is harmful and stops the blood from working properly.

In both acute myeloid leukaemia and multiple myeloma, some of the cancer cells can hide out in the bone marrow, where they stick to blood vessels, rendering chemotherapy less effective. This means that, even after chemotherapy has killed the majority of cancer cells, the cells in these ‘sanctuary sites’ survive and then go on to grow and multiply once again, causing the patient to relapse.

If successful, GMI-1271 will prevent or delay this relapse. By testing the drug in tandem with standard chemotherapy, it is hoped that cancer cells will be unable to anchor themselves to the bone marrow, allowing chemotherapy treatment to kill all cancer cells in the patient.

The opportunity to open the trial in Ireland is due to the research carried out by members of Blood Cancer Network Ireland and their strong collaboration with Glycomimetics, the biotechnology company which produced the drug.

The GMI-1271 trial for multiple myeloma patients will also open in University Hospital Galway where Professor Michael O’Dwyer (Director of Blood Cancer Network Ireland) is leading the study.

Commenting on the new trial, Professor O’Dwyer said:

“This new clinical trial highlights the huge strides in cancer research and clinical trials which Blood Cancer Network Ireland has been a part of since our establishment in November 2015.

“There are approximately 1,500 people in Ireland living with blood cancer. Blood cancers account for about 10% of cancer deaths and it is the relapsed drug resistant cancer that is the cause of most deaths. The fact that this new trial provides hope for multiple myeloma patients is an exciting development that puts Blood Cancer Network Ireland at the forefront of blood cancer research on a global scale.”

Consultant haematologist at Beaumont Hospital, Dr John Quinn, joined Blood Cancer Network Ireland in February of this year after the Irish Cancer Society committed to an increased investment of €450,000 over the next five years to support the expansion of the network into Mater and Beaumont Hospitals.

Speaking on his entry into the network, Dr Quinn said at the time:

“We have been developing our clinical trial practice in haematology at Beaumont over the past five years, however, this major investment by the Irish Cancer Society will open up even greater access to blood cancer clinical trials and the latest treatments for our patients, and also strengthen the network as whole”.

Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, welcomed this new Phase 1 clinical trial and praised the work of researchers linked to Blood Cancer Network Ireland:

“The work being carried out by this country-wide network of clinicians, scientists, and population health experts highlights the importance of investing in such innovative and potentially life-changing cancer research. The Irish Cancer Society is proud to be partnering with Science Foundation Ireland on the funding of Blood Cancer Network Ireland, ensuring that Irish blood cancer patients benefit from the latest advances in cancer care and treatment.”

Each year in Ireland approximately 250 people are diagnosed with multiple myeloma and 170 succumb to their disease. 

In the past a multiple myeloma diagnosis meant that a patient could only expect to survive for three to five years, with chemotherapy the only treatment available.

Today, that average survival time has increased very significantly, and the introduction of new medicines in the coming years will likely see patient outcomes improve even further.

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