Colorectal cancer is not normally considered one of the core ‘LFS cancers’ – in fact less than 3% of LFS cancers are colorectal – yet we have gladly out our name to supporting an innovative trial in bowel cancer in the UK. Why is that? Aside from wanting to improve the outcomes for all cancer patients, regardless of whether they have LFS or not, there are some good reasons for our interest in the Neo-Art trial.
Firstly, this is a trial that is looking at a repurposing an existing drug for a new illness. The Neo-Art trial is using a common anti-malaria drug called artesunate to see whether it can reduce the rate of metastatic disease following surgical resection of the primary cancer. As we all know, mostly it’s metastatic disease that ultimately kills cancer patients rather than the primary disease. Therefore any measure that reduces the rate of metastases is important – it will save lives. Now the thing about artesunate is that there is nothing about how it works that is specific to colorectal cancer. If this works then this may work in other cancers too – therefore we should see this trial as blazing a trial that may lead to treating other cancers in the future.
Secondly, this is a trial that focuses on what is called the perioperative period – that is it’s a short treatment around the time of cancer surgery. In fact in this trial patients will have to take artesunate for a couple of weeks before surgery – that’s it. No long term treatments with drugs that cause horrendous side effects. Increasingly there is evidence that perioperative interventions can have big impacts on the outcome of cancer after surgery. Artesunate is just one of a number of possible interventions, other drugs that might work in the same way include cimetidine and ketorolac, both safe, cheap and with low risk of side effects.
A third reason for our interest is to do with how this trial is being funded. As artesunate is a cheap generic drug there is no drug company funding for the trial. And let’s be clear, running a trial is an expensive business. In fact running a drug with a cheap, generic drug can be more expensive than running a trial with a new and fantastically expensive drug. With the new drug, there is a pharma company investing in the trial and giving the drugs for free. With no drug company involved the drugs have to be paid for directly. In this case though a patient charity, Bowel Disease UK has raised the funds to pay for the bulk of the trial. This is a fantastic response by a relatively small charity.
However, there is an additional amount required and here the trial team have decided to appeal direct to the public in the form of crowdfunding the trial. The response has been amazing and the appeal has almost reached its target – but there’s still time to make a contribution!
All in all there are plenty of good reasons for the George Pantziarka TP53 Trust to be supporting this trial – who knows, perhaps this crowdfunding mechanism is something that we can learn from too.
For more on the trial and issues involved, take a look at our editorial at the journal ecancermedicalscience
And for the latest news on the appeal, take a look at the crowdfunding site: FutSci.com