UK life sciences minister says Oxfordshire ‘doing something special’

Starting at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Mr Freeman met Oxford University’s Regius Professor of Medicine Sir John Bell, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Chair Dame Fiona Caldicott and Director of Clinical Services Paul Brennan, city council leader Bob Price and Local Enterprise Partnership Chief Executive Nigel Tipple, to discuss economic growth plans for the area and new approaches to integrated health care in the county.

He was then briefed on the work of the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and the Oxford Genomic Medicine Centre.

At the University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus, Mr Freeman was briefed on the latest buildings being developed at the site, including the Big Data Institute, which will allow researchers to analyse millions of records to shed light on many health conditions, and the Bioescalator, which will support new and developing life science businesses, before finding out more about research at the University, one of Europe’s largest centres for biomedical research.

While admitting an allegiance to traditional rival Cambridge, George Freeman expressed his pride at the work being done in Oxfordshire. He said:

‘The Oxford Biomedical Campus is fast becoming a world class hub of the new technology and biomedical disciplines which are transforming twenty-first century medicine. Through government and local funding, the Oxford team are building a truly integrated campus with NHS, university and industry researchers pioneering the genomic, informatic and diagnostic breakthroughs which are making Precision Medicine a reality for NHS patients. With companies like Adaptimmune and Immunocore here in the cluster, I am very proud as the UK’s first minister for life sciences (and a Cambridge man) to note that Oxfordshire is doing something special.’


New clinical trial to tackle hard-to-treat leukaemia

A new clinical trial at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital plans to study the safety of a new experimental drug to treat a form of leukaemia, called Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

Acute myeloid leukaemia is the most common aggressive blood cancer and there are about 2,200 new cases in the UK each year. It can be hard to treat, especially in patients over 65 years of age and is often fatal within a year of diagnosis. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more effective therapies. The lack of suitable treatment has been identified as a major unmet need by the national blood cancer charity Bloodwise, which is co-funding the study.

The drug is in the earliest phase of clinical testing and does not have marketing authorisation or approval. The purpose of the clinical trial is to start to gain an understanding of the side effects of the drug and possibly identify early evidence of effectiveness in treating AML. Patients with AML and who are aged 18 and older are being sought for the study.

The drug is to be tested as part of a long term collaborative research project between cancer researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom and Stanford University in the United States. The clinical study is also a collaboration between Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Churchill, the University of Oxford and Stanford University.

Research between the University of Oxford and Stanford University found that leukaemic stem cells that propagate the disease protect themselves from being “eaten” by immune cells by expressing a “don’t eat me” signal, called CD47.

Researchers developed this new drug to block CD47, and it is hoped will enable the body’s own immune cells to eliminate Acute Myeloid Leukaemia cells.

This clinical research is funded in the UK by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, the Medical Research Council and Bloodwise and in the US by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Ludwig Cancer Research.

Chief Investigator for the clinical trial, Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre member and Professor of Haematology Paresh Vyas said: “This is an important study as it aims to provide much needed treatment for a large patient group where we have made limited impact in improving survival with good quality of life.

“It is also important as it is a radical new approach. It is an exciting and unique collaboration between two of the world’s most pre-eminent universities and is a great example of how universities and the NHS can develop drugs from concept to the clinic in partnership.”

George Freeman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences at the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Health, said: “This new drug could revolutionise our approach to tackling this form of leukaemia and potentially deliver a life-enhancing treatment so desperately needed by patients.

“Supporting the development of innovative medicines like this with trials in the NHS is why the Government invests £1 billion each year in the National Institute for Health Research, helping to confirm the UK’s position as a world-leader in medical research and accelerate access for NHS patients to new treatments.”

Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Bloodwise, said: “Drugs that harness the immune system have had considerable success in treating other types of blood cancer. This new type of treatment could be a very exciting prospect for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia, for whom alternatives to current treatments are desperately needed.”

Oxford ECMC announces new lead & CXD101 trial update

The Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre is delighted to announce that Dr Sarah Blagden is now the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) lead for Oxford.

She brings a wealth of experience to her role as Oxford ECMC lead; following training in Cambridge and the Royal Marsden she went on to become Director of Imperial’s Early Cancer Trials Unit before joining Oxford in the Department of Oncology in 2015. Sarah has an outstanding international reputation and brings with her to Oxford ECMC many specialist skills as a clinician scientist. It is this experience in both academic and commercial early phase trials, alongside her leadership and vision, that will ensure the world-leading translational work in cancer here in Oxford continues to thrive.

The Oxford ECMC has been a key partner in the recent CXD101 trial. Celleron Therapeutics, the UK-based company developing personalised medicine for cancer patients, has today announced that significant clinical activity was observed in the first human trial of its pioneering personalised cancer treatment CXD101 in patients at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital with advanced treatment-resistant aggressive disease. The results also indicate that CXD101 has favourable safety and tolerability.

‘These results provide early clinical evidence that CXD101 is active against late stage cancer’ commented Professor Nick La Thangue, Founder and Chief Scientist, Celleron Therapeutics and Professor of Cancer Biology in the Department of Oncology at Oxford University. ‘CXD101 represents a new class of drugs with dual mode of action that not only targets tumour cells but also stimulates the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. These are extremely encouraging and important results and we look forward to driving the clinical trials forward as fast as possible in aggressive cancers using our personalised treatment approach’.

A major challenge in drug development is that all cancer patients respond differently to treatment. Clinical trials with Celleron’s CXD101 drug are not only investigating the properties of the new drug but will also study a novel biomarker test, known as a companion diagnostic, to predict which patients can be successfully treated with the drug. This approach avoids the problem of treating patients who have little chance of benefiting from the treatment.

Dr John Whittaker, Celleron’s Chief Operating Officer commented ‘I am delighted to see Celleron, the Oxford Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) and Oxford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust making excellent progress on Celleron’s proprietary targeted therapeutic, CXD101, which opens up new and exciting opportunities for treating aggressive types of cancer’.

Dr Graham Collins, Haematology Consultant at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, remarked ‘ These are very promising results with a very well tolerated drug demonstrating clinical activity in aggressive lymphomas ‘.

Professor Mark Middleton, Chief Investigator for the trial and Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre noted ‘Whilst there’s a lot more work to be done, seeing patients benefit from CXD101 encourages us to study this exciting drug further. The support of the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre has been key to developing and delivering the trial. It provides a way to bring new drugs to our patients, which might otherwise not happen’.

CXD101 is a next generation epigenetic immune-regulator representing a class of drug that kills cancer cells by blocking certain vital functions involved in gene expression, and reactivates the patient’s immune system so that cancer cells can no longer evade immune recognition. The trial is a unique partnership between Celleron Therapeutics, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Oxford Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre.