Our Research Director, Phil Hexley, outlines what happened at SNO: the 22nd Annual Meeting and Education Day of the Society for Neuro-Oncology
Results from several clinical trials were presented at SNO, including a researcher we fund, Professor Chalmers. He presented results from the OPARATIC clinical trial, a phase 1 study using olaparib in combination with temozolomide (a standard chemotherapy drug) in patients with relapsed glioblastoma.
Phase 1 studies are the first step in testing a new drug, or drug combinations, in people and these studies usually involve patients whose cancers have progressed despite standard treatment.
The goal of the OPARATIC trial was to establish the recommended dose and schedule for using olaparib, a drug which can block tumour cells from repairing their DNA. This makes the cancer cells more likely to be killed by standard treatment. As well as identifying a dose and treatment regime for olaparib, the side effects were also determined.
Probably one of the wider outcomes that Professor Chalmers demonstrated was in patents with glioblastoma, the BBB can be disrupted and leaky. So when pre-clinical trials do not show good BBB penetration, this isn’t necessarily a point to stop testing a drug. Like seen with olaparib in this trial, this disruption can let the drug pass the BBB, even if pre-clinical trials do not show they do not.
One of the more controversial presentations was on tumour treating fields (TTF).
This is a non-invasive technique for adults with a glioblastoma. It uses alternating electrical fields which should disrupt tumour cell division, or cause cell death, thereby preventing the tumour from growing or spreading so quickly.
Results suggest that TTF does increase survival in patients with glioblastoma, however there were concerns over how the previous clinical trial was designed.
Throughout the conference there were several presentations investigating how TTF disrupts cell growth, giving us a better understanding of how this technology may actually work. However the ethics of medical devices and the approach used to investigate this therapy, is still a tough debate in the neuro-oncology community.
The value of data analysis and quality of life
One of the emerging topics for neuro-oncology has been data analysis, being able to analyse and interpret data from large population sets.
Because brain tumours are relatively rare as a cancer, access to information and samples can be limited and analyses can include too few samples to get a truly representative picture. Several researchers presented work focused on accurate data analysis in a wide variety of topics.
To build our understanding, Dr Marcel Kool analysed over 25,000 brain tumour samples from across the world. From this work he identified unique groups of tumours that allow for better precision medicine to be developed targeting these specific tumour groups.
Dr David Raleigh, at UCSF, presented work on a large study characterising aggressive meningiomas. Because of this work, our very own Chief Scientific Officer Dr David Jenkinson had the honour of presenting Dr Raleigh with the Adult Basic Research Award for using this data to better predict clinical outcomes.
Considering data analysis from a different perspective, Dr Terri Armstrong presented work on how social media and electronic data collection can help measure clinical outcomes and give a better understanding to patient experiences.
Furthermore Dr Catherine McBain used data on patient reported outcomes and identified fatigue as the most common concern amongst patients living with a brain tumour.
These snippets of information do not do justice to the work that these researchers, and so many more, have undertaken but I think it’s fitting to look back at Professor Yung’s initial quote for neuro-oncology researchers to unleash the power of data, be patient-centric, improve lives, and move the needle for patient care.