For the first time regional patients with rare cancers will have access to a groundbreaking immunotherapy trial at the Albury-Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre.
The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute received federal funding last year to expand a trial that uses a combination of two immunotherapy drugs.
Border Medical Oncology’s Craig Underhill said it was first piloted with patients in Melbourne, and now another 60 would take part, this time also at additional sites on the Border and in Sydney.
“In the first cohort of 60 patients, we actually sent some patients to Melbourne to access the trial,” he said.
“The results were so encouraging Professor Cebon at the Olivia Newton-John centre approached the medical research fund to run it for another 60 patients.
“We routinely prescribe these types of drugs for more common cancers including melanoma, lung cancer, and kidney cancer.
“One of the issues for people with rare cancers is it’s often difficult to do trials as there’s not enough people to prove the worth – so this will put all those people together.”
There will be specific eligibility for the trial, which will be for people with rare gastrointestinal, neuroendocrine and gynaecological cancers – cancers which each affect less than 5000 Australians and don’t respond well to chemotherapy.
Dr Underhill said the first Border patient was enrolled this week.
“We’re quickly generating a list of patients with tumours eligible for the trial and conservatively we think we’ll have 12 patients who will be able to go on the trial,” he said.
“There’s already negotiations going on to extend the program … potentially there will be a number of immunotherapy trials over the next few years that we’ll continue to be able to put patients on.
“We’ll also be taking blood samples for research so that in the future we might be able to know with a blood test how somebody’s tumour is likely to respond to immunotherapy.
“We’re very excited patients will be able to have a go with these new trials – we don’t know whether they’ll work but there’s enough evidence that they well might.
“Because of the hard work the Border Medical Oncology team has done since establishing the trials unit 20 years ago, and now having the cancer centre, it’s enabled us to have opportunities like this.”