Brain Cancer Trial To Speed Up Treatment Options

13/11/2015 11:02 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Male doctor studying an MRI scan of the brain on digital tablet. Actual scan of the young man's brain after the brain tumor removal.

Large-scale studies into serious medical conditions like cancer can take years, and end up with inconclusive results.

Cancer sufferers simply don't have that sort of time to wait.

That's the rationale behind a ground-breaking global brain cancer trial spearheaded by Australian researchers, aiming to develop treatments and report results at a far accelerated rate than conventional trials.

"We don't know what's going to work, but in any type of medical testing, we know it's a numbers game. The more treatments we can test, the higher chance we can find something that works," said Michelle Stewart, head of research strategy at the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

Announced today, the study -- named GBM Agile -- will target glioblastoma or GBM, the most common and deadly brain cancer. While participants have not yet been selected, around 3000 people from Australia, the USA, China and Europe will take part in the program which promises to "cut red tape, potentially deliver faster results and give patients faster access to new, effective treatments than traditional clinical trials."

The Australian-based Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, founded by renowned surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, has been one of the agencies in the global collaborative effort to establish GBM Agile. Stewart told The Huffington Post Australia the "adaptive trial" would see patients moved between different treatment options -- chemotherapy, immunotherapy and others -- to see how their cancer responded in real-time.

"It is completely different to the way clinical trials have been done before. A normal trial might go for a few years, a patient would wait a few years to see if it worked. This is like driving with your eyes open; rather than waiting until the end to see if it worked or not, you can change direction," she said.

"It seems really straightforward but it is really different to the norm. [Scientists] will still be looking at overall survival as an endpoint, but interim endpoints will also be assessed."

Stewart said GBM survival rates had not changed for three decades, and with a diagnosis of just 15 months for most people with the cancer, waiting years for results of long clinical trials was "just not good enough." She said scientific and technological advances meant shorter trials could still produce useful results.

"This is the best prospect we’ve ever had of being able to solve GBM. There have been hundreds of of trials for GBM, but not much has come of them. We need to do something differently," she said.

"There have been advances in big data, in statistics and the methods improved, so regulators are looking at this as a realistic prospect for drug development."

Hundreds of Australians will take part in the trials, which are expected to begin in mid-2016. When asked what treatments GBM Agile participants would be undertaking, Stewart said a panel of experts would select "the most promising drugs" available.

"The trial is not owned by any particular company. It has been developed by clinicians and scientists, it's agnostic to developers. We have an agent selection committee and have established a great process for selecting the most promising agents," she said.

"People will enter the trial, have biomarkers identified for what type of GBM they have, then given the most appropriate treatment for their type. It's precision medicine."

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