Two fundraising brothers have hailed a dramatically effective new treatment to improve radiotherapy for the worst kind of brain tumours, which their mum suffered from.
Oscar and Tobi Kirby-Hogarty, both from Wandsworth, lost their mum Lesley, aged 63 in 2019 and raised more than £10,000 for the Brain Tumour Trust, who funded research into a new drug.
Researchers at Imperial College London have created a drug which blocks an amino acid which enables their mum’s tumour, glioblastoma (GBM) to thrive. The new treatment has been announced as Brain Tumour Awareness Month gets underway.
Oscar Kirby-Hogarty, 29, from Tranmere Road, Earlsfield, said: “To hear that these developments are now being made makes me truly happy.
“To know that the work my brother Tobi and I have done to raise funds and support this cause means my mum’s legacy lives on, in spite of this cruel and indiscriminate illness.
“When my mum was diagnosed with a grade 4 GBM, I could not fathom that in this day and age, with all of the medical expertise we have, her prognosis was so bleak.
“Everyone always thinks cancer is something that happens to other people. I did too. For it to happen to us and for it to be a form of cancer that is so untreatable felt truly unfair.
“Cancer isn’t fair, but in true reflection of my mum, my brother and I decided to raise money in an attempt to even the playing field.
We decided that those loved ones in our society, who are unlucky enough to be diagnosed with what is very often an idiopathic cancer, should have access to quality curative care as we now do with other forms of cancer.”
GBM is the most common type of primary high grade brain tumour in adults and also the most aggressive and deadly. Fewer than one per cent of patients with GBM live for more than 10 years and, for many, the prognosis is as little as 12 months.
New research, funded by the charity Brain Tumour Research, was published in a paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It documents the findings of the team at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College.
Dr Karen Noble, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Brain Tumour Research, said: “This is a significant and exciting finding.
There is an urgent need for novel approaches to treat GBM which, in the majority of cases, is fatal. There have been no improvements to treatment options for this type of tumour in two decades.
“Despite the promise of new targeted approaches in cancer treatment, the standard of care for patients with GBM remains unchanged – surgical resection followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”
Arginine is an amino acid which enables cancer cells to grow quickly, so depriving tumours of it can be an anti-cancer strategy for several tumour types, including GBM.
Of GBM tumours, 70 per cent are able to make arginine, but 30 per cent are not.
In this study, the research team focused on the tumours that can make arginine by exposing them to a drug called ADI-PEG20. This drug degrades arginine and the aim was to deprive tumours of access to arginine.
The team is also exploring the potential for using ADI-PEG20 in the 30 per cent of tumours that are not able to make arginine. If successful, this would mean that all GBM patients could be treated with arginine depletion.
When arginine is degraded by ADI-PEG20, nitric oxide is produced – which activates immune cells in the brain and spinal cord.
The nitrous oxide appeared to activate immune cells around the tumour. Importantly, using ADI-PEG20 had its greatest effect on tumours when used alongside ionising radiotherapy.
Dr Nel Syed, who co-leads the team at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London, said: “Arginine is a vital nutrient for tumour growth and our results show that reducing its supply makes tumours much more susceptible to radiotherapy. Removing arginine removes tumour immunosuppression and we found our approach meant immune cells around the tumour were more likely to attack and remove tumour cells.
“Laboratory results showed that, using the drug ADI-PEG20 in combination with radiotherapy, led to a durable response with extended disease-free survival with no significant toxicity. The next steps are to explore the safety and effectiveness of using this in humans by setting up a new clinical trial.”
Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK.
It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure.
The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.
To find out more about the charity, visit www.braintumourresearch.org.