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Taking significant steps towards brain cancer care

A phase II trial starting at UCLH is to offer patients with an aggressive type of brain cancer immunotherapy on the NHS for the first time.

The clinical trial will use immunotherapy to treat glioblastoma mutiforme, the most common type of malignant brain tumour. Baroness Tessa Jowell, who has this type of brain cancer, spoke in the House of Lords, calling for improvements in cancer treatment and the establishment of a global database to improve research and patient care.

Around 2,200 cases of glioblastoma multiforme are diagnosed each year, with an average survival rate being less than a year. Fewer than 10% of patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis.

UCLH medical oncologist Dr Mulholland, who designed the trial will also lead the trial in treating the brain tumour, glioblastoma multiforme, with an immunotherapy drug – Ipilimumab. The aim of using the monoclonal antibody therapy is to increase survival rates by making the immune system more active.

Dr Paul Mulholland explains why the start of the trial is significant: “This is the most important trial for brain cancer patients in the last fifteen years. In earlier phases of the trial we have seen, in some patients, some dramatic and exciting responses. We now need undertake a clinical trial to see if these responses lead to improved life expectancy. If this treatment works, this will be a vital step in changing the treatment for this patient group for the better.”

The national brain appeal, which is part funding the trial, has also more than doubled the bed capacity of The Molly Lane Fox Unit at UCL’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queens Square – the UK’s first ever dedicated brain tumour ward. The increase from 12 to 26 beds now means that hospital is the largest recruiter to brain tumour trials in the UK, with a reputation for high quality research data.

Having all brain tumour patients in one unit will allow specialist medical experts to come together and provide dedicated care. BRC supported Dr Mulholland described how vital this expansion is: “We are able to find and see patients, meet with the clinical teams and help to recruit patients to our clinical trials. Without the brain tumour ward, The Molly Lane Fox Unit, we would not be able to do that. The patients need to be in the right environment to understand what is being explained to them and we need the expert clinical team around us supporting the process.”

The Molly Lane Fox Unit opened in 2011 and has been a huge success with 750 patients being seen on the ward each year. The extra capacity means that demands can now be met and that the best of care can be given to as many patients as possible.