When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cancer Biologist

Vaughan Jefferies Lecture Theatre Education Building - Edgbaston Campus
Thursday 17 November 2011 (17:15-18:15)

Contact: Karen Wright
Tel: 0121 414 5937

An Inaugural Lecture by Professor Chris Bunce on Thursday, 17 November 2011

More than half of all patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and substantial proportions of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) patients either present, or arrive, at a point in their disease, where anti-cancer therapy is inappropriate because it is no longer effective or its toxicity cannot be tolerated due to infirmity. At this stage of their disease the loss of normal blood cell production mediated by the presence of the tumour creates life-threatening deficits of red cells, platelets, and immune cells that are managed by supportive care, involving blood and platelet transfusions and aggressive treatment of inevitable infections. Other than palliative care there is no available treatment and survival is poor. Progress in this arena requires the availability of drugs that can better target the malignant cells in the absence of significant systemic toxicity and in particular, toxicity against normal blood production.

There are two possible approaches to this problem. The first and perhaps most obvious approach is to develop new drugs. To this end the field has used ever increasingly sophisticated approaches to identify mutations that represent drugable targets, present in the cancer cells and not normal blood cells or other cells of the body. Two very notable successes of such drugs (one of which I will highlight in the lecture) have spurred the field on, but in truth progress has been slow. What has emerged is that these diseases are very heterogeneous with patients with the ‘same’ disease having different genetic lesions perhaps meaning that each new drug will only assist a small subset of patients.

A second and complimentary approach to drug discovery is drug redeployment. This approach seeks to use already existing drugs in new disease settings. This approach is far cheaper, can be tested in phase II trials much more rapidly and can be used to address health issues in poorer nations. Using this approach, we have developed a drug combination that uses a female contraceptive in combination with a cholesterol lowering agent to exert an anticancer effect. Our preclinical laboratory studies have shown that these drugs have activity against a significant proportion of AML, CLL and NHL samples and in early phase II trials have shown anti cancer activity in patients with AML and in a particularly aggressive form of NHL called Burkitts Lymphoma.

Cost: Free of Charge

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