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Cardiff scientists start clinical trials following drug discovery

21 January 2009

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cellsChronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells

School of Medicine scientists are at the forefront of world research with a novel drug discovery which may lead to a new, targeted treatment for leukaemia patients who currently respond badly to conventional drugs.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and Clinical Cancer Research Dr Chris Pepper and his multi-disciplinary team in the Department of Haematology have discovered that some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) have high levels of a protein (called Rel A). These patients develop a more aggressive form of the disease. This means they require more intensive therapy to treat CLL - the most common leukaemia in the UK.

The scientists have also discovered that the amount of this protein in the patient’s leukaemia cells accurately predicts how he or she will respond to treatment.

Dr Pepper, research scientist, explained: "This protein is providing new information about CLL patients which we believe will allow us to identify those who have more aggressive forms of this leukaemia. This is important because the timing and type of treatment can then be matched to the patients’ requirements."

Additionally, Dr Pepper’s team has shown that a new drug called LC-1 can block this Rel A protein, resulting in the targeted killing of the leukaemia cells. Encouragingly, tests in the laboratory show the new drug is equally effective in treating the cells of patients that respond poorly to the current treatment, Fludarabine.

Dr Pepper explained: "We used our discoveries about the protein Rel A in CLL to predict that the drug LC-1 would have an effect on drug resistant cells. This turned out to be the case and the combination of LC-1 with Fludarabine proved highly effective. We have now started a clinical trial here in Cardiff to test this new drug in patients and we will know later this year how effective it really is."

Dr David Grant, Head of Research Information at Leukaemia Research, says: "This work is very exciting because it shows how research can help doctors individualise treatments for patients. Results so far suggest that the new drug LC-1 could be particularly useful in patients who have previously responded badly to conventional chemotherapy."

The team’s discovery is the latest in the School of Medicine’s ongoing exploration of better treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Last year, Dr Pepper and his team identified another key protein in the blood that prevents chemotherapy killing leukaemia cells.

The research was funded by the leading blood cancer charity cancer charity Leukaemia Research, which currently has more than £1.1 million invested in research into blood cancers at the University.

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