Accelerated Drug Programme

Over the past four decades there have only been a small number of new cancer drugs introduced for the treatment of head, neck and thyroid cancer. As a result there have been very few advances and improvements in survival of head and neck cancer with approximately four out of every ten patients having a recurrence and dying from their disease.

As a result, finding effective new cancer drugs and introducing them into clinical practice to benefit these patients is a high priority.

The Cancer Drug Acceleration Programme (CAP) is a new innovative platform with the aim of

a) shortening the time it takes to develop cancer drugs.

b) to drive down the cost of new cancer drugs to the NHS

c) to increase the number of new cancer drugs available to patients.

This new method (called a platform) can be used for any type of cancer. It is currently being trialled in head and neck cancer, because there have been very few new drugs introduced in the treatment of head and neck cancer in the past thirty years. However, there are plans to use this new platform to also develop drugs for lung, colorectal and breast cancer amongst others. CAP consists of three stages:

First Stage: Screening. Whereby we look at drugs that are currently approved for use on humans in clinical practice. These drugs are often off patent and are therefore very cheap. They have usually been tested and used for a specific indication. For example, metformin is used for treatment of diabetes. However, we have now become aware that many of these drugs also may have anticancer activity which may help improve the treatment of cancer patients. However, unfortunately they have never been tested for their effects on cancer treatment. During the screening phase we test many of the drugs available and approved for clinical use in humans on a panel of different cancer cells that we have grown in the lab from cancer donors. These so-called “cell lines” require specialised techniques to grow them and keep them alive. We add the drug compounds to the cell lines to see if they cause any killing of the tumour cells in the lab. Those drugs that show an effect then go on to be assessed in the second stage.

Second Stage: Confirmation. The drugs that have shown a potential effect then undergo further testing on more models. These models include tissues that were donated by previous patients. If these tests confirm the killing effects of these drugs on cancer cells, then the drug proceeds to the third and final stage.

Third Stage: Validation. The drug becomes available to patients through clinical trials. These clinical trials look to see whether there is an effect on the cancers of living patients. The studies usually first start with patients who have cancer recurrence and who have exhausted conventional types of treatment. These new drugs therefore, potentially provide these unfortunate patients with a lifeline and a last chance of cure or prolongation of life. If the drug shows effect in these Phase I trials it then goes on to larger trials in patients who have not yet been treated for cancer – usually in combination with existing treatment to help improve the survival of these patients and reduce the risk of cancer returning.

Benefits to patients

The cancer drug acceleration programme will result in:

1. Reduction of the time taken to introduce new cancer drugs. Typically, the development process takes about 15 years from the start of a new drug to its introduction to clinical practice. The AcceleraTED project will reduce this time down to 4-5 years. In addition the drugs will be available for patients with recurrent cancer within clinical trials within about a year of the start of the programme.

2. It will decrease the cost of new cancer drugs to the NHS. This is because the AcceleraTED project target is concentrating on drugs that are already approved for use in humans and have therefore been tested stringently for safety. Furthermore these drugs are usually off patent and therefore no longer owned by drug companies and therefore can be produced at low cost.

3. As a result of the new and innovative methods used in AcceleraTED project we think that the number of new cancer drugs will increase significantly and therefore potentially provide cure and improved survival for thousands of patients on a daily basis. Many of these patients will have exhausted other forms of treatment and have no other options to get rid of or beat their cancer.

We are looking to raise £1million over five years to help set up and run the AcceleraTED project programme for the next five years. We envisage that up to 5 new drugs may be discovered and introduced into clinical trials by the end of the five years.