Oxford University Hospitals has started a clinical trial which combines the use of immunotherapy with a protein-inhibiting drug for use with difficult-to-treat bowel cancer.
Immunotherapy combined with checkpoint inhibitor drugs has been used successfully as treatment for several cancers, including melanoma and lung cancer, but until now has not worked so effectively on bowel cancer.
This study will test the combination of immunotherapy with binimetinib, which inhibits the protein MEK (mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase), which is often activated in bowel cancer.
Prof Mark Middleton, Head of the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford, said: “Immunotherapy is a very exciting new treatment, but it only works against some types of cancer. Fresh approaches are needed to try to make more cancers sensitive to treatment, so it is great to be able to offer this type of trial to patients in Oxford.”
A quarter of bowel cancers have a mutation in a gene called KRAS, and these are particularly difficult to treat because some standard drugs for bowel cancer are ineffective in this situation. When RAS genes, such as KRAS, are mutated, the MEK pathway is overactive. Studies have shown that turning this pathway off can make tumours more susceptible to immunotherapy.
The Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit at the Churchill Hospital is part of the Experimental Cancer Medicines Centre Network, which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Cancer Research UK. Professor Middleton’s work is supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), where he is the Co-theme Lead for Multi-modal Cancer Therapies.
Binimetinib is an MEK-inhibitor developed by Array Biopharma to treat a number of cancers.