Early signs of success for pioneering treatment at Oxford Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit

An Oxford cancer patient who was told she may have only eighteen months to live is free from signs of the disease after taking a trial drug for almost three years. Susan Cakebread received her pioneering treatment at the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital which aims to discover new treatments for the future.

Now Susan will be a special guest at World Cancer Day celebrations in Oxford on the 4th February – her 69th birthday – when the Lord Mayor will launch a programme of events to unite the city. Doctors, scientists and patients will join members of the public in Bonn Square to form a human chain to mark World Cancer Day. They want others to wear Unity Bands to show their support for Susan and others affected by cancer.

The mother of two was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2008 after finding a spot on her head which became bigger and harder over a few weeks. Although the news hit her hard she vowed to stay positive and strong for her husband, Brian, 72, and family. The couple have a son, Andrew, 42, and a daughter, Nikki, 40, who with her husband Enton has a home in Oxford.

Susan was treated with surgery and had a skin graft before attending regular check-ups for the next three and a half years. During a holiday in Dorset in 2012 she became unwell with kidney stones and was admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where an X-ray for her condition also showed up abnormal spots in her lungs. Further tests confirmed her cancer had come back and spread to both lungs.

Susan, who lives near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, was offered the option of joining a clinical trial in Oxford by her consultant.

She said: “Having been told I would probably only live for about eighteen months without treatment it was a no brainer. I wanted a chance to live”

She was one of the first patients enrolled in the trial testing a new type of immunotherapy and started a regime of weekly trips to Oxford for treatment, tests and results.

The team at the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit treat on average 18 patients a day, testing new drugs and therapies in patients as well as new combinations of existing treatments. Many of the patients have advanced cancer and are no longer benefiting from standard cancer treatment.

“I was really nervous but the staff and general atmosphere was so friendly and relaxed. I also found their honesty reassuring. They told me the trial was new and there were no guarantees it would work. To begin with the side effects were pretty awful and the research nurses spent hours monitoring me. I had a rash and pink eyes but gradually the side-effects settled down and I was able to go home soon after each treatment. Because I was doing well – not everybody does – I was kept on the trial and by 2014 the tumour in my left lung had disappeared on scans and the other had shrunk by a third”.

A few weeks ago the remainder of the tumour in her right lung was removed in a six hour operation and subsequent tests have indicated Susan is clear of any signs of cancer in both lungs.

“When I was given the results I had a few tears. I have been very lucky. I didn’t even find the treatment that hard to cope with. I believe I am the longest survivor on this trial drug”.

She has now been able to stop the treatment and will only return to the clinic for regular three-monthly check-ups although she hopes that will be extended if all goes well.

“I will miss going to the unit every week. I have been bowled over by their friendliness and professionalism. They encouraged me to look ahead and stay positive. I never wanted friends and family to see me and think about the ‘Big C’. I believe it was best to get it out in the open so that everyone knew and could talk about it openly”.

Her husband, Brian, added: “The doctors spotting the lung tumours in the X-ray Susan had for the kidney stones could have saved her life. Although she had no symptoms, the melanoma had spread to her lungs and there was little else doctors could offer her. But thanks to the clinical trial and this new drug, we could have years together.”





Susan and Brian are highlighting the Unity Bands as leading cancer charities – Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation – join forces for World Cancer Day. There will be a range of events held in Oxford for World Cancer Day, to find out more click here.

The four charities uniting for World Cancer Day touch the lives of millions of people every year through the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those affected by cancer.

Helen Johnstone, for Cancer Research UK, said: “So many of us have been affected by the disease, which is why on February 4 we want people to wear their Unity Band with pride. Success stories like Susan’s would not be possible without the commitment of our amazing supporters. Wearing a Unity Band is a simple way to show support and a small action taken by many people really can make a huge difference.”

The Unity Bands are available from each charity in their own colours at www.worldcancerday.co.uk for a suggested donation of £2. All money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities’ individual research projects and support services


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Oxford role in world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is to provide samples for the world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank brings together surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, researchers and database experts to co-ordinate a national – and ultimately international – resource that will help to develop new treatments and bring these to patients much faster.

The new facility, based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), will store tissue donated by consenting patients with diseases of the pancreas undergoing biopsy or surgery at partner hospitals in five cities initially: London, Southampton, Oxford, Leicester and Swansea. All samples will be anonymised before being banked.

The partners will act as Tissue Bank collection centres, adding samples of tissue, blood, urine and saliva from around 1,000 new patients each year.

About 8,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.  It’s known as the UK’s deadliest cancer, with a survival rate of just 3 per cent, a figure that has barely improved in 40 years.

New treatments are desperately needed. Surgery to remove the tumour offers the best chance of survival but most patients are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to other organs. Without surgery, the average survival time from diagnosis is 6 months.

The Tissue Bank is being funded with £2m from the UK research charity, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF).

Each donation will be logged with detailed medical and, where possible, genetic information so that researchers can request exactly the right type of sample for their research. Data generated by all research projects using Tissue Bank samples will be fed back into a bespoke database, and will be made freely available to the global research community, to inform and underpin their own research.

The development of the Tissue Bank has been driven by Professor Hemant Kocher, a pancreatic cancer researcher at Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL, and consultant pancreas and liver surgeon at The Royal London hospital, Barts Health NHS Trust.

He said:  “This is a highly ambitious venture, but one that is crucial to enabling researchers to investigate new treatments for this most lethal cancer. At the moment, we can help only a small proportion of patients with surgery. For the majority of those diagnosed, and for those who see their cancer return even after surgery, there’s very little else we can offer.  

“The Tissue Bank will also help us to tackle this disease with earlier diagnosis. Many proteins associated with pancreatic cancer are also found in blood, urine and saliva, so having these materials from patients alongside the tissue samples helps us to find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier, curative stage.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks, said:  “Researchers told us that progress was being held back by the scarcity of high-quality tissue samples on which they can test their ideas and validate their research. For research results to be more meaningful, the samples must be collected, handled and stored consistently, following strict procedures. 

“A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out. It’s a huge commitment for the charity, but thanks to the generosity of our supporters we’ve been able to make it happen.”