Seeking new ways to deliver drugs to brain tumours in children

Childhood brain tumours have remained difficult to treat, despite many advances in cancer treatments in recent years. One important reason for this is the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is intended to protect the brain, but, when intact and functional, this protection also prevents anti-cancer drugs from achieving effective concentrations in the brain tumour.

Doctors and scientists from hospitals and drug companies in the UK, Europe and US have recognised that in order to find new ways of getting vital drugs into brain tumours, they need to share and combine their knowledge and expertise within the area of childhood brain tumour drug delivery.

They found that a number of different people had experience in this area as part of childhood cancer care, but that they all needed to collaborate.

This project involves doctors and scientists from the Universities of Nottingham, Strathclyde and Newcastle, the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, and UCL Institute of Child Health in the UK; Johns Hopkins University, and the National Cancer Institute in the US; VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam in the Netherlands; and Fast Track Pharma Limited and Macrophage Pharma Limited in the UK.

Their aim is to find new drug delivery systems which will physically bypass the BBB to deliver anti-cancer drugs to brain tumours, and save the lives of more children.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Children’s Brain Tumour Drug Delivery Consortium

  • Lead Researcher

    Professor David Walker

  • Research Centre

    Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, The University of Nottingham

  • City & Institution Postcode


  • Start Date

    1 February 2017

  • Duration

    68 months

  • Grant Amount



Although there are a growing number of research groups starting to focus on drug delivery techniques for adult cancers, using similar techniques to treat childhood brain tumours presents different challenges. Children with Cancer UK sponsored a drug delivery workshop led by Professor David Walker (pictured above), and are now funding this international consortium which aims to draw global attention to the need to develop treatments suitable for children, and to find ways to ensure future research is supported by funders, industry and regulators. We’ve funded the Consortium for two years, during which it will work closely and collaboratively with relevant charities and not-for-profit organisations in the international brain tumour community, to meet the needs of children with brain tumours. Very few experimental therapies have overcome the drug resistance associated with systemic therapy. In contrast, drug delivery strategies which seek to bypass the BBB have been used successfully in other tumour types and are currently showing significant responses in otherwise highly resistant tumours; for example interstitial infusional therapy for adult diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG), and Gliadel® wafers for high grade glioma (HGG). Successful development of drug delivery systems doesn’t just rely on the right drugs. To find safe, effective ways of bypassing the BBB, doctors and scientists will need to work with experts in other areas – such as engineering and medical technology, as well as collaborating with commercial and healthcare partners to bring innovative new systems into hospitals where children can be treated.

Potential impact

This exciting project is the first time that there has ever been global co-ordination of a paediatric brain tumour drug delivery consortium. By sharing knowledge, experience and resources, we will accelerate the progress of research into new drug delivery systems to bring hope to children and their families. We aim to develop tailored drug delivery systems applicable to childhood brain tumours that potentially offer major advances in treatment, and crucially with minimal toxicity to reduce the side effects and give children better quality of life as well as improved chances of survival. The consortium will help scientists in different research centres around the world understand where the most urgent clinical needs are, and provide a central point for anyone interested in developing new treatment methods – from doctors and scientists to drug companies. By joining forces, we will be in a better position to make collaborative funding applications, ultimately to include programme grants, and will strengthen our existing relationships between consortium members, funding bodies and national/international symposia organisers. This gives us a real opportunity to influence priority grant calls and conference sessions relating to drug delivery for childhood brain tumours. The consortium also plans to offer/promote more opportunities for future researchers to be trained in specific aspects of drug delivery research; for example, through short placements at specific institutions.

About the research team

The consortium is chaired by David Walker, Paediatric Neuro-Oncologist at the University of Nottingham, who is an expert in clinical trials in children’s cancers. He is joined by Ruman Rahman, Assistant Professor of Molecular Neuro-Oncology at The University of Nottingham, as Deputy Chair.
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