In 2008, when the family and friends of Debbie realized that she would not survive by standard treatments, they discovered that worldwide there was no dedicated drug development research programme into the treatment of cervical cancer. Debbie Fund has already changed that by establishing a dedicated research programme at UCL.
When asked what she hoped Debbie Fund would achieve, Debbie’s 16 year old daughter Sarah summed it up perfectly when she said:
“I hope that one day a lady will come up to me and tell me that she had cervical cancer, but because of a drug that came out of our research, she survived.”
Inside the lab: the progress of the research
The need for this research
- Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer worldwide with around half a million new cases and a quarter of a million deaths per year.
- In the UK around half the 3,000 new cases each year are women under the age of 50.
- Outcomes using current therapies are poor – the five-year survival rate is 64%.
- Almost 50% of patients experience a relapse after radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and there is currently no effective treatment for these women.
Working towards new therapies to treat cervical cancer
The Debbie Fund research taking place at the UCL Cancer Institute is assisted by valuable contributions from the Therapeutic Antibody Group at Medical Research Council Technology. This dedicated group of scientists are creating innovative antibody-based treatments for cervical cancer. These are being created from research at the bench to clinical application in first-in-human trials. (Antibodies are proteins that can specifically target 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 Debbie Fund team have genetically engineered entirely novel antibodies designed to deliver localised drug or radio therapy to the cervical cancer cells, sparing healthy tissues and minimising the undesired side effects of conventional treatments. UCL researchers have shown that the antibodies can also target cancers such as pancreatic cancer. So, once developed, the new treatments could have wide application to benefit patients with diseases other than cervical cancer.