GI cancer trials boosted by fresh ideas

GI cancer

By Mardi Chapman

26 Jun 2019

An inaugural GI Cancer Trials Idea Generation Workshop has advanced progress on potential research projects aimed at improving outcomes in neglected digestive cancers.

They include projects addressing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, a novel combination of drugs for bowel cancer patients with KRAS mutations, and how to predict who might benefit from very targeted therapies in pancreatic cancer.

GI Cancer Institute Chair Professor Tim Price told the limbic that gastrointestinal (GI) cancer was an area of need for new research directions.

“It has sort of been left behind with all of the new immunotherapies and advances on other cancers which don’t work in GI cancers. A lot of the money in research has gone to the high profile new therapies. It’s very hard to get anyone interested in GI cancer research in general because all the drugs that look exciting don’t work.”

He said the Idea Generation Workshop was a very productive day – discussing in reasonable detail 10 concepts out of the 23 ideas that were submitted.

“One protocol presented to the group came from our consumer advisory board. They had come up with a fairly robust scientific idea around trying to prevent one of the significant toxicities for one of the drugs that we commonly use. So it was a very important clinical survivorship question that they had researched in some depth around risk factors and proposed a study to look at and reduce this risk factor which is anaemia.”

He said the proposal garnered a lot of traction and was finally merged with another protocol around prevention of neuropathy.

“I came into this as a bit of cynic I suppose. I didn’t quite understand how it was going to work. But what Martin Stockler and Mustafa Khasraw put together was a highly productive and engaging day. These are early concepts but, to be able to get people to put together fresh ideas and get some momentum around them with feedback to take forward, they look very much like they will be future studies the group will be able to run.”

Associate Professor Khasraw, from the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, told the limbic the process had been used before in other cancers including brain, lung and genitourinary cancers.

“This is a one-day workshop, people submit ideas and then have the opportunity to present in front of an audience and receive feedback.”

“What we try to do is walk out of the workshop with a complete plan and a team of people who could be interested in moving this forward and concrete action items.”

He said the focus was on prospective clinical trials that answer a clinically important question.

“Blue sky research is important but these are workshops for cancer collaborative groups and have to have a clinical focus. The patient has to be there somewhere.”

He said one project discussed was already funded but needed academic input and help with more specimens and participants.

“That is one that is obviously feasible. It will be more about tweaking it so it has a bigger effect at the end.”

Associate Professor Khasraw said apart from advancing novel ideas, the workshop was focussed on mentoring and bringing new talent into research.

“The other side is we have the responsibility to mentor new people and bring them into the field and help them to move to the next level.”

“There are a lot of people who are not familiar with the research and clinical trials landscape. This is a great opportunity to get into the field and also have the help you need.”

“The reality if that not every idea will become a successful project. There is a degree of attrition but at the same time there will be some that move forward to become a project with impact in the field.”

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