You were recognised at Kea’s World Class NZ Awards in 2015 for your work in the understanding and treatment of strawberry birthmarks (a common vascular tumour). What have you been working on since then at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute?
We have been investigating cancer based on the cancer stem cell concept of cancer. We have found cancer stem cells, the proposed origin of cancer, in many types of cancer and that they express the renin-angiotensin system. This has led to the development of a novel cancer treatment using a combination of repurposed low-cost commonly available oral medications, which is undergoing testing in a clinical trial on a severe brain cancer, glioblastoma. Interim results show promising outcomes. A similar clinical trial for malignant melanoma has recently commenced. Subject to funding being available, we intend to extend the trial to include other cancer types.
Why is this research so important and what impact does it have on a global scale?
The treatment used in the clinical trials involves low-cost, off-patent repurposed oral medications that are commonly available. They have very low side effects. Because the treatment involves inexpensive medications it has the potential to achieve substantial cost and equity benefits.
Conversation and collaboration is always key when it comes to success. How can Kea’s World Class NZ network and global community support these novel cancer trials?
Because the medications are low-cost, there is a limited commercial incentive to fund drug-repurposing. Philanthropic and government support to undertake the trial programme is therefore vital.
We have learnt throughout 2020 with the COVID pandemic, that global collaboration is key to unlocking pathways to success -not only with scientific endeavour, but with engaging with those, governments and otherwise, who can fund critical clinical research. We wholeheartedly encourage that collaboration.
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