Cancer drug research reaches landmark stage

Our team at Get A-Head have been talking to Professor Hisham Mehanna from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Head & Neck Studies (InHANSE) to discuss the impact of the biggest ever grant that Get A-Head has been able to award.

We provided £250,000 of funding to enable cutting-edge research to be conducted into whether existing drugs, already sold in normal pharmacies, can treat, or even cure, cancer.

The research grant, worth more than £1 million in total, was made in partnership with Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, to support the exciting Accelerated Platform research of Professor Hisham Mehanna, who is chair of head and neck surgery at InHANSE.

Developing brand new drugs through pharmaceutical companies using conventional approaches can take up to 15 years before the drugs reach patients – and even then there is a 90% chance they will be found not to work.

By repurposing existing drugs, patients with cancer will be able to access potentially life-saving medication more quickly and cheaply. This will make a vital difference to the treatment of cancer – not only head and neck cancers, but potentially other cancers too.

After three years of research and after screening thousands of drugs Professor Mehanna, alongside Get A-Head research technician Baksho Kaul and QEHB research fellow Rachel Spruce have reached the stage where drugs are ready for human trials.

Patients receiving treatment in Birmingham will be among the first to potentially benefit from this landmark research, but if the trials are successful these repurposed drugs could be available in trials to patients the country over in the next two to three years; a vast reduction from the 15-year waiting period that can be associated with making new drugs.

Professor Mehanna said: “Although head and neck and thyroid cancer is the seventh most common cancer in the UK, it does not feature in the list of top fifteen most-funded cancers in terms of research, and because pharmaceutical companies tend to concentrate on the five most common cancers, not many new treatments are being produced. This means that unfortunately survival rates have not improved very much over the last 30 years.

“Through the Accelerated Platform, local patients will gain access to the latest drugs well before their availability in normal clinical practice or nationally. The availability of better and more effective treatments will help improve survival rates in patients with head and neck cancer and, because the cost will be reduced, more patients will benefit due to the healthcare savings made.

“We have now reached a hugely exciting stage in our research where we are ready to begin human trials, meaning we are closer than ever to providing patients with innovative repurposed treatments.”