Irish blood cancer patient first to take part in drug trial

Professor Michael O'Dwyer: Leading the study at NUIG.

An Irish patient with blood cancer has become the first in the world to take part in a new drug trial which could pave the way for longer cancer remission times.

The man has started treatment for the blood cancer multiple myeloma. Patients with the condition normally respond poorly to standard treatment.

If successful, the new treatment could delay or prevent relapse which would mean blood cancer sufferers could have long remission periods. The patient is in Beaumont Hospital.

Further studies or trials involving more than 20 patients are also likely to take place across the country in future as the study expands.

The clinical trial examines a new medicine GMI-1271 and is run by Blood Cancer Network Ireland.

The patient at Beaumont is under the supervision of Dr John Quinn, consultant haematologist and associate investigator with Blood Cancer Network Ireland.

The drug was first tested in Ireland, the US, and Australia in patients with acute myeloid leukaemia and early results were very promising.

The latest trial 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.

Professor Michael O’Dwyer, professor of haematology at NUI Galway, who is leading the study, said it is hoped that the risk of relapse will be reduced and patients can have a more durable response to treatment.

He said patients considered are those who may not be doing as well as expected. He said if successful it would be hoped to get this treatment as early on as possible for patients and it could possibly be applied to other cancers, though further studies would have to take place in relation to those such as whether it could be effective for breast cancer.

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 last year,” he said.

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


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