TCD research leads to cancer clinical trials

Focusing on cancer commonly found in kids
  • Deborah Condon

New treatment options for a form of cancer that is common in children are to begin clinical trials in 2021, as a result of a key discovery by researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The original discovery was made by TCD researchers in 2018 and relates to synovial sarcoma, a form of soft tissue cancer that is common in children.

The research, which was led by Dr Gerard Brien of TCD's department of genetics, discovered an 'Achilles heel' in synovial tumours, which provided an opportunity to develop new treatment approaches.

Using cutting edge genomics technology, Dr Brien's team discovered that the BRD9 gene is essential for synovial sarcoma tumour growth.

They wanted to develop new drugs to target this gene and they were successful, developing drugs that tricked cancer cells into shutting off this gene and blocking the growth of synovial sarcoma tumours in pre-clinical testing.

Following on from this, the Boston-based biopharmaceutical company, C4 Therapeutics, has pursued BRD9 targeting in synovial sarcoma and it has recently announced plans to start clinical trials in 2021.

The TCD researchers are highlighting the announcement about the clinical trials to mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout September.

"It is incredibly motivating to see our work reaching patients so quickly as it often takes many years for laboratory-based research findings to have any tangible impact on patients. This is a super exciting time and we're all crossing our fingers these trials are successful," Dr Brien said.

The researchers emphasised that better treatment options for these tumours are essential because around 60% of patients diagnosed with synovial sarcoma die from their disease. Furthermore, this figures has not improved for years.

They noted that many childhood cancers have not been studied to the same extent as common adult diseases, such as breast cancer. As a result, the ability to treat many childhood cancers has not improved at the same rate that has been seen in relation to common adult cancers.

This is why there has not been a significant improvement in patient survival rates in many of these cancers for some time.

Meanwhile, Dr Brien is continuing to work in this area. In research supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society, he has found a number of new drug targets and is testing new approaches to treat several different types of childhood cancer.

"We're pretty excited by what we've found so far. We've made some important discoveries and have several new approaches in testing. The new Trinity St James Cancer Institute (TSJCI) is essential to integrate the laboratory and clinical sides of cancer research in Ireland.

"I certainly hope that building collaborative relationships within TSJCI will provide a basis for establishing future clinical trials here in Ireland," Dr Brien added.

The TSJCI is the only cancer centre in Ireland accredited by the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes. It has taken a leadership role in cancer care in Ireland, combining world-class science with excellent patient care in order to pioneer new ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer.


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