Joining forces to fight childhood leukaemia

18 September 2015
Coral employees visiting Institute of Child Health
Our remarkable fundraisers, Coral, have visited two of our grant-holders at London’s Institute of Child Health to see how their funding is helping research into the most common childhood cancer. 

On Friday 18th September 2015 Children with Cancer UK grant-holders Professor Persis Amrolia and Dr Owen Williams hosted a visit for our corporate partners, Coral.

Coral's outstanding support

What a humbling experience to see the hard work from some of our brightest people in the country in the quest to cure childhood cancer.
Gary Bolton, Regional Director (East region), Coral
In 2014, Coral adopted Children with Cancer UK as their charity partner, pledging to raise £500,000 by the end of 2015. Incredibly, with three months of the partnership still remaining, they have already raised more than £1 million.

To celebrate this remarkable support, we arranged for some of Coral’s staff, and top fundraisers, to join us during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to visit some of the researchers we are funding.

Our grant-holders host Coral's visit

Children with Cancer UK grant-holders Professor Persis Amrolia and Dr Owen Williams hosted a visit to the UCL Institute of Child Health in London, the research arm of Great Ormond Street Hospital. We have a long-standing partnership with the Institute of Child Health (ICH); our very first task as a newly formed charity back in 1988 was to raise £2 million to establish a new childhood leukaemia research centre there.
Coral employees visit Institute of Child Health lab
Incredible progress has been made in the treatment of childhood leukaemia, with the overall survival rate now exceeding 90 per cent, but too many children still cannot be saved, despite intensive treatments that push their bodies to the very limits of what they can tolerate.

A new way to prepare for bone marrow transplant

Persis Amrolia is an NIHR Professor of Transplantation Immunology and Consultant in Bone Marrow Transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital. His young patients have already been through a massive amount before they are referred to him for transplant.

Bone marrow transplant is an important tool for the treatment of young leukaemia patients but is a high-risk procedure with the potential for dangerous side-effects. Only just over half of patients survive following transplantation. Between 10 and 20 per cent will die of toxicity from the procedure and about 30 per cent will relapse even after transplant. Clearly this is not good enough.

Persis currently has funding from Children with Cancer UK for two important projects that seek to overcome these problems and improve the outlook for patients with leukaemia.

In the first project he is using genetically engineered T-cells to treat children and young adults with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and is planning to open a clinical study of this approach early next year.

The second project is focused on the delvelopment of antibody treatments which may be safer and less toxic than drugs and radiotherapy to prepare young patients for transplant, reducing the risk of life-threatening side effects. This pioneering work has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of high risk leukaemias and transplantation and the team at Great Ormond Street and the UCL Institute of Child Health are uniquely positioned to take this forward for the benefit of young patients.

Read more: Safer stem cell transplant in acute myeloid leukaemia | Immunotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Repurposing old drugs

Dr Owen Williams, who heads the leukaemia group at the Institute of Child Health, is taking a new approach to the identification of new treatments for childhood leukaemia, by repurposing existing drugs.

With funding from Children with Cancer UK, his team is taking forward our understanding of leukaemia at the molecular level. Their focus now is on finding old drugs, already known to be safe, that act on the genetic pathways that they have already demonstrated are involved in the development and proliferation of childhood leukaemia.

By seeking to repurpose drugs in this way, drugs can be brought into the clinic far more quickly and cheaply than is possible through the usual drug development pathways. They have already identified one candidate drug, which is undergoing further investigation in their lab.

Read more: Testing new drug treatments for childhood leukaemia

Working together for the benefit of young patients

Coral LogoIts always inspiring to hear our grant-holders talk about their work, and to see some of their research first hand in the labs. We were delighted to share this opportunity with some of those from Coral who have been working so hard to raise funds.

Coral’s support massively increases our ability to fund vital research such as that being carried out at the UCL Institute of Child Health. This research is so important but it takes time; the development of new treatments is slow and painstaking. It is also very expensive.

But there is every reason to be optimistic – progress IS being made and young patients can look forward to a brighter future thanks to the efforts of Persis and Owen, their colleagues and ultimately to everyone who donates and raises funds to support their work.

Read more: Coral fundraising reaches £1,000,000! | Coral's visit to our project in Manchester | Coral's visit to London’s Institute of Child Health 


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