Improving the treatment of children with relapsed or persistent acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

New, more effective and less toxic drugs are needed for children who have relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) or are at high risk of relapse. Unfortunately, developing new cancer drugs usually costs millions of pounds and takes many years to reach patients. Rather than create new drugs from scratch, Dr Julie Irving and her team aim to bypass these cost and time constraints by screening ALL cells for potential drug targets and matching them against already existing drugs that are used for other types of cancer but could be repurposed to use against ALL.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Optimising the use of repurposed drugs to improve the treatment of children with ALL

  • Lead Researcher

    Prof. Julie Irving

  • Research Centre

    Newcastle University

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH

  • Start Date

    1 February 2021

  • Duration

    33 months

  • Grant Amount

    £213,259.00

julie irving femail researcher wearing white lab coat

Overview

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common type of childhood cancer. While ALL has relatively high survival rates compared to other cancers, it is still difficult judge how best to treat a patient using chemotherapy. Under-treatment can lead to relapse, while over-treatment harms healthy cells and poses long term side-effects to the child.

New drugs are needed for children who have relapsed ALL or are at high risk of relapse due to persistent cancerous cells. There are a host of new drugs available for other types of cancer that may be effective for these children but are so far untested in childhood. These new cancer drugs are designed to home in on cancer cells that carry a ‘target’ but spare healthy cells. This means the drugs are more effective at killing cancer cells and have fewer side effects than the more conventional, older type drugs.

Prof. Julie Irving and her team aim to take a whole range of these new ‘targeted’ drugs, look for the drug ‘targets’ on cancer cells from children being treated for ALL and identify potential matches for treatment. Prof. Irving’s team will use a new piece of research equipment, called a CyTOF, that will allow them to scan for more than twenty potential drug targets across thousands of ALL cells in a short space of time. Importantly, they will examine ALL cells taken both before and after chemotherapy treatment to ensure that the drug targets are present on those persisting ALL cells that are resistant to current treatments.

What difference will this project make?

New, more effective and less toxic drugs are needed for children who have relapsed ALL or are at high risk of relapse due to persistent cancerous cells. This research will help Prof. Julie Irving and her team to identify potential new drugs and new drug combinations to treat these young patients.

Developing new cancer drugs usually costs millions of pounds and takes many years to deliver an effective drug from the laboratory to the patient. This project will bypass these cost and time constraints by testing drugs that have already been developed and are used in the treatment of other types of cancer, but which may be effective in aggressive childhood ALL.. These drugs could then be put forward for testing in clinical trials to improve the prognosis of children with relapsed ALL or those at high risk of relapse. This project is a first step in re-routing new ‘targeted’ drugs to benefit children with ALL.

About the Research Team

Prof. Julie Irving is a scientist with more than thirty years of experience in the field of leukaemia and is a member of national and international ALL groups and steering committees. Her team focuses on childhood ALL and they have previously successfully translated their experimental findings into the clinic for the benefit of patients. For example, Prof. Irving’s recent work on a new type of drug called MEKi, that may be effective for some children with relapsed ALL, has led to an international clinical trial called Seludex.

Prof. Irving will be working with Dr Frederik van Delft, a clinical scientist who leads a research team and treats children with cancer in the Great North Children’s Hospital. She will also be working with Dr Dino Masic, a talented postdoctoral scientist, who has worked in ALL research for over 10 years and has the specialist skills needed to carry out this project.

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