Our Proton Beam Therapy trials and evaluations
In 2018 we were pleased to announce the Foundation was funding large – scale clinical trials at the new Proton Beam Therapy facility at the world-renowned Christie Cancer Centre in Manchester. The hope was to quickly increase the likelihood of the provision of PBT provided by the NHS for Head and Neck cancer patients who have recurrent disease, and are in desperate need of the new treatment.
Head and Neck Cancer is one of the most common subgroups of cancer with around 11,700 patients in the UK being given the life-changing diagnosis every year. Survival rates vary but overall around 50% of patients will survive 5 years from diagnosis.
Radiotherapy is used to treat over 50% of these cancers and can often completely cure them, however, the high-power X-rays used pass straight through the body, often causing devastating side – effects as they hit critical structures in the head and neck. Some patients become too ill to complete the course of treatment and even if fully treated, should the cancer return, further rounds of treatment are often not possible.
Using alternative Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) is less invasive treatment where particles smaller than an atom are fired with pin point accuracy at tumours at over half the speed of light. It deposits a radioactive payload with microscopic precision, potentially curing cancer even in people who cannot receive any more radiotherapy.
“WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE TIME WHEN PBT WILL BE AVAILABLE TO ALL WHO NEED IT, AND THAT IT WILL BECOME A MAINSTREAM TREATMENT PROVIDED BY THE NHS.”
The Christie is one of the largest single cancer centres in Europe and has already started delivering PBT to a small number of patients with certain rare cancers. Their internationally renowned team of professors and doctors believe they are on the cusp of a new break-through with PBT, combining it with immunotherapy to harness the patients’ own immune system to fight the cancer.
The Christie’s programme passed Cancer Research UK’s peer review process with the Clinical Research Committee approving the trials in mid-2019. The research produced early positive results, but by the spring of 2020, Covid-19 had appeared and derailed the programme. During the pandemic, budgets and processes have been reworked, and we are pleased to hear that CRUK and The Christie have redesigned the programme, and trials will recommence in 2022.
In addition to the Trials specifically for head and neck, we have pledged funding for research at University College London Hospitals (UCLH), whose own PBT Centre is now open. The Taylor Family Foundation has pledged funding for their ambitious plans to use this new technology to treat as many types of common cancers as possible (such as breast, oesophageal, pancreatic, liver, lymphoma and lung). The programme is still at review stage with CRUK. Eventually, a dedicated team of physicists, biologists, doctors and researchers will collaborate internationally with existing experts to seek the evidence required for PBT to become routine ‘standard of care’. Changing the treatment options on offer, as well as shaping treatment guidelines and protocols internationally, will improve outcomes and expectations for all cancer patients.