Translational Oncology Initiative

A new ‘bench to bedside’ scheme to convert innovative research across the University into new clinical trials in Sheffield.

Potentially life-saving, new therapies for cancer will be accelerated into clinical trials more quickly due to a pioneering new project launched by scientists and clinicians at the University of Sheffield.

This aims to create a pipeline between world-leading researchers across the University and cancer doctors working in the state-of-the-art Clinical Trials Unit at Sheffield’s dedicated cancer hospital, the Weston Park Hospital.

Professor Claire Lewis, a senior cancer researcher at the University of Sheffield is leading the Initiative with cancer doctors, Professor Sarah Danson and Professor Penella Woll. It was launched recently with the generous support of two local Charities, the Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and the Sheffield Hospital Charity, who have funded a number of junior cancer doctors to conduct the essential final studies needed to progress discoveries at the University into clinical trials.

“There are an estimated 2.5 million people currently living with cancer in the UK,” said Professor Lewis. “Over 150,000 of these die every year so new, effective therapies for cancer are needed urgently.” She added: “Innovative research has the potential to completely transform the treatment of cancer but for this to get from the lab to the bedside it must be translated into new clinical trials with cancer patients. In order to do this we need to make it easier and quicker for scientists and clinicians to work together and conduct these clinical studies”.

Scientists and clinicians across the University are at the forefront of a number of cancer research areas and continually developing potential new therapies. One example is the ‘Trojan Horse’ therapy for prostate cancer developed in the laboratories of Professor Lewis and Dr Munitta Muthana in Sheffield (in collaboration with Professor Norman Maitland in York).   This uses a patient's own white blood cells as 'Trojan horses' to deliver large amounts of a cancer-busting virus into the centre of all tumours present in the body.   It eliminates prostate cancer in their lab experiments as reported by the BBC .

This is due to be tested in a new clinical trial led by Professor Janet Brown in Sheffield, in conjunction with Dr Sarah Danson in Sheffield and Professor Robert Hawkins in Manchester. This ‘first in man’ trial will be funded and run by Cancer Research-UK’s Centre for Drug Development.

Professor Lewis said: “We are very excited about this potential new treatment and grateful to the two Charities who funded the laboratory studies that led to its development, Yorkshire Cancer Research and Prostate Cancer-UK.  We also thank Cancer Research UK for agreeing to support and sponsor this clinical trial.”

Professor Brown said she hoped that: "This novel approach will significantly improve the outlook for patients with prostate cancer."

Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK's Director of Drug Development, said: "We're proud to lead this ground-breaking clinical trial for prostate cancer.  This innovative treatment showed promise in mice and we're finding out if it could benefit men with prostate cancer too."

Another exciting translational study is being undertaken by James Catto (Professor of Urological Surgery in Sheffield).  He has identified a new way to treat aggressive bladder cancer – and his lab-based research has now led to a new clinical trial for this disease.

His team analysed how the expression of genes can be altered by a process called ‘DNA methylation’ in bladder cancer cells, and showed how this controls their response to treatment. This has led to a new clinical trial, run by the Universities of Sheffield and Southampton (and again funded by Cancer Research UK) in which a drug which inhibits DNA methylation is being given to patients with advanced bladder cancer to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Nigel Blackburn said: “We’re delighted to be working alongside the University of Sheffield and Weston Park Hospital, bringing scientists and doctors together to turn scientific discoveries into new treatments. Thanks to this bench-to-bedside approach in Sheffield, we’re now carrying out pioneering clinical trials to make new treatments available to cancer patients.”

Another important part of this new initiative in Sheffield involves the development of new ways to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments - both those already being used to treat patients and new ones under development, like those mentioned above.

It is known that no two cancers are identical in their genetic make-up, and that this influences the way they will respond to therapy.

Increasingly, cancer treatments are being 'personalised' - in other words, tailored to the genetic profile of a patient's tumour.  Researchers at the University of Sheffield are developing new ways to predict how a patient might respond to a given treatment, so they can be given one most likely to be effective against their own cancer cells.

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