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Last year, thousands of you helped to raise vital funds for Cancer Research UK. Thanks to your hard work, we spent an incredible £341 million on lifesaving research.

To make sure we use this money to fund the best research possible, we assemble committees of experts from different areas of science, to assess the applications for funds we receive from the wider research community.

One of these committees focuses on clinical trials.

Unlike our laboratory research, clinical trials involve human volunteers. They’re how researchers test if new treatments are safe for patients and if they’re better at treating cancer than what’s already available.

They can also help understand the causes of cancer and how to prevent it, as well as optimising treatments and minimising their side effects.

There are different types – or phases – of clinical trials which tell us different things. Our handy video below explains what the different types are and how they work:

When our clinical trials committee met last November, they funded a total of £6 million worth of clinical research. Here are some of the highlights:

Immunotherapy trials

Several trials focused on immunotherapies: a hot topic in cancer research at the moment:

Testing immunotherapy treatments for neuroblastoma: the BEACON trial

Professor Andrew Pearson: Royal Marsden hospital – applied for £74,960

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Professor Andrew Pearson

Professor Andrew Pearson and his team are carrying out a phase II clinical trial to identify which group(s) of immunotherapy drugs are best at treating neuroblastoma that hasn’t responded to other kinds of treatment (resistant) or that has come back (relapsed).

It’s a multi-arm clinical trial which means that instead of comparing two treatments, the researchers compare multiple treatments. The aim is to figure out if a single drug, or a particular drug combination, works better at killing neuroblastoma cancer cells.

We wrote about the BEACON trial back when it first launched. Our committee agreed to support an extra arm of the trial to test if combining a chemotherapy drug with immunotherapy drugs results in better treatment. It will involve 160 patients.

Immunotherapy for rare type of bone cancer

Dr Shirley D’sa, University College London Hospital – applied for £364,000

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Dr Shirley D’sa

Dr Shirley D’Sa is carrying out a clinical trial to try and improve treatment for plasmacytoma, a type of bone tumour.

In a phase III trial, known as IDRIS, Dr D’Sa and her team are investigating if giving patients drugs that target the immune system at the same time as their standard radiotherapy is better than radiotherapy alone. They aim to recruit 140 patients. The team will also collect samples from patients and study them in the lab to try and find any molecule – or group of molecules – that can predict how the cancer will progress.

In the future this information could help in the development of new treatments against plasmacytoma and also help doctors give patients more personalised treatment.

Radiotherapy trials

Radiotherapy has been used to treat cancer since 1896. Over 100 years later, it remains a cornerstone of cancer treatment that helps thousands of people survive the disease every year.

And that’s not all – researchers are still finding new ways of using radiotherapy to target cancers’ weaknesses.

Cutting edge radiotherapy for breast, prostate and lung cancers

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Dr Vincent Khoo

Dr Emma Hall and Dr Vincent Khoo, The Institute of Cancer Research – applied for £454,000

In the CORE trial, Dr Hall and Dr Khoo are studying how radiotherapy can be used to treat breast, prostate and non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

They’re testing if using targeted, low-dose radiotherapy that is delivered from different angles – so-called stereotactic body radiotherapy – can kill cancer cells that have travelled to secondary sites, while at the same time, reducing some of the unpleasant side effects of radiotherapy on surrounding healthy tissue.

Radiotherapy with immunotherapy for melanoma

Dr James Larkin, Royal Marsden Hospital – applied for £153,000

Royal Marsden Hospital

Dr James Larkin

Dr James Larkin and his team are testing if high doses of radiotherapy can ‘supercharge’ the effects of an existing immunotherapy drug in melanoma patients.

If successful, the radiotherapy and drug combination will activate the immune system and create an army of super troops to destroy cancer cells, including those that have spread to other parts of the body. They plan to recruit 234 patients over the next 18 months.

Surgery trials

Surgery is a highly effective way to treat cancer, that has helped thousands of people survive the disease. But undergoing surgery is a big decision as it can involve long recovery processes and isn’t always a complete success. That’s why it’s equally important for doctors to know when to carry out surgery, and when not to.

Radiotherapy with surgery vs surgery alone for rectal cancer

Mr Simon Bach, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham – applied for £123,000

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Mr Simon Bach

In the STAR-TREC trial, Mr Simon Bach is comparing two different treatments for rectal cancers to see which is best at removing the cancer, and has the least severe side effects.

The first treatment is called total mesorectal excision (TME) surgery which involves removing a large part of the bowel along with the tumour. The second treatment involves a short course of radiotherapy followed by a procedure called transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM) to remove the tumour and a much smaller region of the bowel. The advantage of the second option is that it’s much less invasive and preserves more of the bowel – something that could significantly improve a patient’s quality of life. The trial aims to recruit 120 people.

Life-extending surgery in bowel cancer that’s spread to the lungs

Professor Tom Treasure, University College London – applied for £470,000

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Professor Tom Treasure

Professor Tom Treasure is carrying out a clinical trial called PulMiCC to see if surgery prolongs the life of bowel cancer patients whose cancer has spread to the lungs.

By comparing survival between patients who have lung surgery and patients who don’t, the team can determine if it’s the best treatment option, or if patients are spending unnecessary time in surgery and recovery – without any medical benefit.

Importantly, it also means that if surgery doesn’t offer any significant benefit to patients, doctors can look for other treatments that may work better.

The future

Since the committee met in July, we’ve changed how we fund clinical research, so that we can tackle the big challenges outlined in our Research Strategy. Until now, the committee responsible for funding clinical trials has been known as the Clinical Trials Awards and Advisory Committee (CTAAC for short).

But in the future, clinical trials will be supported by our new Clinical Research Committee http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for-researchers/applying-for-funding/funding-committees/clinical-research-committee , which will oversee a broader and more ambitious portfolio of clinical research.

We’re immensely grateful for all the work the chair and various members of CTAAC have done over the years to help beat cancer sooner.

You can find out more about all of these trials and other Cancer Research UK funded trials on our website. It should be noted that not all clinical trials are suitable for everyone.

For more information visit the clinical trials database.

– Áine

NB: Figures given as ‘applied for’ because, although grants last for several years, the Clinical Research Committee funds its grants on an annual basis; subsequent funds are paid dependent on satisfactory research progress.

Comments

Shirley Bisset December 5, 2015

I would like to see more research for stomach cancer, kidney and pancreas and bladder these are usually non curative. I would like to see these cancers talked about more and given more publicity

Jill Burrows December 4, 2015

Some interesting trials here. But do the big pharma companies have an influence on cancer research which holds back any progress in researching into or using natural products and remedies?