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Professor Adrienne Flanagan

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UK Researchers One Step Closer to Effective Bone Cancer Treatment

Posted: 15/03/2013 16:51

Bone cancer is one of the least well understood cancers, yet the statistics are simple and shocking. Over 20% of people diagnosed with bone cancer die within a year and in 2008 bone and connective tissue cancer killed more than a thousand people in the UK alone.

In some ways where we are with the treatment of bone cancer is where we were with breast cancer in the 1990s, with the standard treatment for chondrosarcoma restricted to removal of the affected part, as they are resistant to chemo and radiotherapy. But progress in the fight against the disease has gathered pace in recent times with advances in science, driven by the support of organisations like Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, and Macmillan Cancer Support, helping to dramatically improve survival rates. In the 1970s around five out of 10 women with breast cancer survived the disease beyond five years. Now it's more than eight out of 10. Research into rare disease, such as sarcoma, depend heavily on small charities such as Skeletal Action Cancer Trust, Bone Cancer Research Trust and Sarcoma UK, which are substantially funded by patients and their families and friends.

Our team of experts at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) have been working on a research project to understand more about bone cancer, which has led to a significant breakthrough that will enable us to develop specific treatments for hundreds of patients with one of the more common forms of the disease.

There are approximately 400 cases of primary bone cancer in the UK each year, of which about 90 cases are chondrosarcomas, a cancer of the cartilage and the second most common type. Until now we have not known enough about this form of bone cancer to be able to treat it specifically but our research has led to a new discovery. We have now found that 50-65% of chondrosarcomas contain an IDH1 or IDH2 mutation. With this understanding, specific drugs can be developed which could have a significant impact on the chances of survival of this group of patients. We are at a very early stage but this development is hugely significant and could change the way we treat patients in the future.

We have already begun working with the pharmaceutical company Agios who are developing new drugs which target the IDH1- mutated tumour cells and it's hoped that clinical trials will begin in the near future. A paper published recently in 'ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters' (ACS Publications) showed that the compounds offer promise of effectiveness.

This latest development will accelerate the momentum that has been building to improve our understanding of the disease and we were delighted when our research was recently awarded the Jeremy Jass Prize for Research Excellence in Pathology. But the real rewards will come when it begins to save lives.

We are still some way from beating cancer, whether of the bone or other forms, but the recent research of the RNOH is a significant battle won. In the coming years, thousands of patients in this country will gain access to personalised treatment with drugs that target their cancer better and improve their chance of survival. There remains a lot for us to do, but this latest discovery offers real hope for the future.

 
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