Glioblastoma is a deadly brain cancer that currently has no cure, and has lagged behind major treatment advances other cancers have benefited from. But there’s hope: an Alberta-based, TFRI-funded pan-Canadian research team is working to develop new, promising therapies for patients diagnosed with this disease.
Approximately two to three people per 100,000 per year are diagnosed with glioblastoma. Fewer than five per cent of these patients survive beyond five years, with the average survival being around 15 months.
“All of us would like to make a difference to patients who have this terrible disease,” says principal investigator Dr. Gregory Cairncross, based at the University of Calgary.
“There’s been progress in the treatment of glioblastoma, but it has been modest compared to progress in the treatment of many [other cancers]. We’re motivated to try and make a difference and to contribute to a discovery that moves the yardsticks.”
Their motivation and hard work has fuelled a promising result. In September 2014, Dr. Cairncross and his glioblastoma team members at U of C, Drs. Samuel Weiss and Artee Luchman, made a promising observation.* The drug AZD8055 combined with Temozolomide, the standard chemotherapy drug already taken by most glioblastoma patients, extended life by 30 per cent when tested in the laboratory. Their findings were reported in Clinical Cancer Research in October 2014.
The drug targets a key process in brain tumour growth, says the team. A clinical trial of this combination, led by investigators at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University, will begin in patients with glioblastoma across Canada in spring 2015.
The researchers also have two other drugs heading towards clinical trials, and a fourth that may also be helpful for patients with glioblastoma. The team’s long-term goal is to have a steady stream of new treatments for brain cancer in clinics every year.
Not all glioblastomas are the same at a molecular level, notes Dr. Cairncross, and the thinking is that different drugs will benefit different patients, providing personalized treatment.
“We’d love to think that one of these would be a curative treatment, but I think more realistic would be treatments that control the illness for a number of years, allowing people with this condition to live happier and longer,” he says. “We’re hard at work, and we’ll go hard to the finish line!”
This project is co-funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute ($3,094,453), the Alberta Cancer Foundation ($1,916,195), Alberta Innovates ($2,000,000), BC Cancer ($250,136), Genome BC ($306,000) and Genome Canada ($612,000), for a total of $8,178,785.