Treatment for aggressive brain cancer shows promise in early trial

Brisbane Times

Stuart Lyat

August 13, 2020

A new treatment for aggressive brain cancer has shown great results in an early trial, with researchers hoping it leads to more targeted therapies for the devastating disease.

QIMR Berghofer medical research institute has partnered with specialists Briz Brain & Spine to use targeted immunotherapy to treat glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

Laurie and Julie Pavone. Laurie died just 10 monthsbefore being diagnosed with GBM GBM.

Laurie and Julie Pavone. Laurie died just 10 months after being diagnosed with GBM.

People who are diagnosed with GBM are usually given just months to live and it has only a 5 per cent survival rate.

Briz Brain & Spine neurosurgeon David Walker said the current treatment for GBM was physical surgery as well as targeted radiation treatment, but for this trial they added a round of immunotherapy after those treatment

"The concept was to treat them as soon as we can, when they had minimal cancer left behind after stand therapy, and then introduce this immune therapy," Professor Walker said.

"We got some very promising results - it hasn’t been a cure for all [the trial subjects] but it has been a cure for a small number of them, and the overall survival rate has been significantly improved."

At the end of the trial, of the initial 25 patients, 10 patients were still alive and five showed no sign of the cancer recurring, with an overall average survival time of 21 months.

The trial used cellular immunotherapy, which sees researchers take immune cells from the patients and train them to target GBM specifically, before reintroducing them to the patient.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine Development, Rajiv Khanna, said after the positive results from this trial, they now hoped to develop a combination therapy which they hope will be even more effective.

 "We’re exploring the possibility of combining this cell therapy with what’s called checkpoint inhibitor therapy, can we improve outcomes for the patients if we have two different immunotherapies working at the same time," Professor Khanna said.

"While the checkpoint therapies [which turn off a cancer cell’s ability to 'hide' from immune cells] have had good results, there are still a large proportion of patients who don’t respond to them.

QIMR's Professor Rajiv Khanna said a combinedmmunotherapy would be used in the next phase of the trial

QIMR's Professor Rajiv Khanna said a combined immunotherapy would be used in the next phase of the trial.

"That’s where a combination approach will likely be the way to get real benefit to the patient."

Julie Pavone knows all too well how quickly GBM can claim a loved one, after her husband Laurie was diagnosed at the end of 2018, and died just 10 months later.

"He looked so well to start with, that was the really confronting thing about it, that you have this horrible diagnosis but they just look fine," she said.


"But then it took its toll, he lost the ability to speak and eventually to walk, it was tough."

Laurie was determined to help others in his situation, and so set up Laurie’s Love, a charity that has raised more than $300,000 dollars since it was founded to raise awareness of GBM.

Julie said research breakthroughs were fantastic news for people diagnosed with the cancer in the future, but come as a bittersweet to her and her three children.

"It’s a double-edged sword, you see this great advancement but you think damn, we were only a few months short of possibly having another option for Laurie other than go home and spend time with your family," she said.

"It’s too late for us … but if this can give people another option then I’m very proud of their efforts, and we’ll do everything we can to help them push on to the next phase of their trials."

The results of the phase I clinical trial have been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


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