Debbie Fund has been working very closely with a team at the UCL Cancer Institute so that Debbie Fund can ensure its fundraising efforts match the funding requirements of UCL’s clinical programme.
The plan was to establish a team to work on development of therapies for cervical cancer; the aim to establish methods that will ultimately identify and test novel ways of treating cervical cancer. The success of early fundraising has meant that work has already started.
For the last decade cervical cancer has been treated with external beam radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy. Despite this, almost 50% of the patients will experience a relapse and there is currently no effective treatment for these women. The challenge of reaching and treating tumours in these patients may be met by targeting the radioactivity specifically using antibodies, a process known as Radio-Immuno-Therapy (RIT).
Antibodies are proteins that can specifically seek-and-bind to the cancer cells and either deliver toxic payloads or ‘mark’ the cells for execution by the patient’s natural immune system. Antibody treatments are already successfully used for cancers of the breast, bowel and blood and have great potential to help patients with cervical cancer.
The money raised by Debbie Fund is being used to fund a senior post doctoral scientist with appropriate expertise to establish the laboratory programme. In order to progress the work at a reasonable speed there will also be a technician, and, from year 2, a PhD studentship to add critical mass to the programme (all funded by Debbie Fund). The group will be supported by existing infrastructure and advised by individuals with existing expertise within the UCL Cancer Institute (Professor Kerry Chester, Dr Tim Meyer, and Professor Hilary Calvert).
This new laboratory programme will provide the basis of the expertise and the focus for the activity of Debbie Fund, and is a critical step to the overall goal. In time, larger scale activities will be necessary to increase the probability of a major advance in cervical cancer treatment, but the laboratory’s work is the essential first step. The UCL Cancer Institute also proposes the introduction of a cervical cancer medicinal chemistry group as soon as funding streams permit. This group will, in collaboration with the Debbie Phillips Laboratory and other leading institutions, embark on a programme of discovery for novel targeted therapies for cervical cancer.
The first Debbie Fund project is to generate and pioneer a new Radio Immuno-Therapy (RIT)for cervical cancer
The Debbie Fund RIT project started officially at the UCL Cancer Institute in January 2011 with the appointment of Dr Enrique Miranda Rota, a post doctoral researcher with expertise in molecular oncology. Enrique has a particular interest in how cancer therapies work at a molecular level. He will apply his skills to generate the new RIT by attaching radiotherapeutic isotopes to antibodies he has genetically engineered to target proteins present on the surface of cervical cancer cells.
The approach aims to achieve localised therapy to the tumour site, sparing healthy tissues and minimising undesired side effects known to occur during conventional radiotherapy treatment.
Since the research project started, Enrique has engineered new human antibodies that bind to cervical cancer cell-surface targets. Several variants of each antibody have been produced, in order to maximise their target efficiency. The aim is to develop antibodies that will target tumours in the body just as they do in the test tube. In the next few months, Enrique will be selecting the best of these antibodies to take forward as candidates for clinical development of RIT for cervical cancer.
To watch the presentation by Tim Meyer, Medical Oncologist and member of our UCL team, which took place at our English-Speaking Union Dinner on 7th October 2010, click here.