Tuesday 6 October 2015

Crowdfunding Against Cancer

One of the many problems associated with repurposing off-patent drugs for new uses in cancer is that there is no commercial sponsor involved in the process of getting the drug into clinical use. On the face of it this might seem like a good thing – surely it means that there will be nobody jacking the price up to make huge profits from previously cheap drugs. But in practice this means that the very expensive process of gaining evidence of efficacy in clinical trials though to applying for a new licence is hamstrung due to lack of funding. Clinical trials, especially the larger pivotal trials which convince clinicians that a treatment is effective, are expensive to design and run. For a new drug anywhere up to 75% of the billion dollar cost of getting it to market is spent on the trials process.

This is a significant problem but not an insurmountable one. The Anticancer Fund, for example, is funding a number of clinical trials using a range of repurposed drugs – for example a trial of the pain-killer ketorolac in breast cancer, or a mix of drugs in recurrent osteosarcoma. Another notable example is the Add-Aspirin trial, which is part funded by Cancer Research UK. Clearly there is a role for the not-for-profit sector to step in – but is there also a role for a more direct role for the public?

The Neo-Art trial is looking at using the generic drug artesunate – a commonly used ant-malarial drug – as a treatment in colorectal cancer. Like the ketorolac in breast cancer trial, this one is looking to reduce the rate of post-surgical relapse. Remember, it’s most often metastatic disease which kills cancer patients. Any intervention which can stop metastatic disease in its tracks can have huge impact on overall survival. This is an idea which we urgently need to explore in a range of cancers, including osteosarcoma, as I have suggested in the past.

In the case of the Neo-Art trial, the team at St George’s Hospital have already got preliminary data in patients suggesting that two weeks of artesunate prior to surgery can have a major impact on the relapse rate. The new trial is aiming to prove that this is the case in a larger population of patients – 140 in all. Much of the funding for the trial is coming from a small charity called Bowel Diseases UK, but there’s an additional £50,000 required – and this is where the public can have a direct role.

In a pioneering move, the St George’s team are working with a crowdfunding platform called FutSci to appeal directly to patients, families and members of the public to raise the funds required to make the trial happen. So far the results have been impressive and the appeal is nearly 70% of the way there – but that still leaves around £15,000 to be raised. So, if you have ever been touched by bowel cancer, or want to be part of something that could be truly groundbreaking -  then please go ahead and make a donation.