Posted on February 20, 2017

Drug development and the cost of treatments to health care funders also impacted by findings

Researchers in RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) have conducted further in-depth research to predict how patients with bowel (colorectal) cancer will respond effectively to chemotherapy, to ensure that patients will get the most suitable type of treatment from the outset. A large validation study was conducted to support initial findings with the latest research published in the Clinical Cancer Research and Gut (International Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology) journals.

The research focuses on the need to personalise cancer treatment programmes in order to kill cancer cells while preserving healthy tissue. This prediction tool, developed in RCSI, is a computerised model using insights obtained from research in the field to provide a fast method of determining the sensitivity of an individual patient’s cancer cells. It allows the patient to be assessed to see if chemotherapy will be of benefit before treatment starts, allowing for other treatment options to be utilised if the results show that no benefit will be received from chemotherapy. This not only allows the patient to receive more appropriate treatment at an earlier stage it also prevents any possible damage to healthy cells which could be caused by the chemotherapy and reduces other side effects.

Professor Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology & Director of the Centre for Systems Medicine at RCSI, said “Tumours can become unresponsive to chemotherapy as they are made of different types of cells and many develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs. In one particular type of colorectal cancer up to 50-60 per cent of patients prove unresponsive to a commonly used treatment regime.”

“The tools we have developed from this research will deliver the right chemotherapy or the right treatment plan to the right patient at the right time, hence avoiding unnecessary side-effects and accelerating access to better treatments.”

“This avoids a situation in which a patient who is not responsive to the drugs has to endure harsh chemotherapy treatment needlessly. By analysing the chemical pathways in a tumour prior to therapy and knowing that the tumour will be responsive also reduces uncertainty, and means that scarce resources can be used to maximum benefit.”

“The research has also shown that this type of testing may also work in other forms of cancer which is another exciting development.” concluded Professor Prehn.

In addition to patient benefit, there is potentially a major cost saving associated with this development for healthcare funders – patients who will not benefit from the chemotherapy, or certain types of chemotherapy, will not receive it resulting in significant healthcare savings.

Professor Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology & Director of the Centre for Systems Medicine at RCSI

The Dose Response Medical Outcome Model Predictor System, a patent protected technology developed in RCSI, can also be used by the pharmaceutical sector. Developing a new treatment can be a lengthy process costing billions. This test can be utilised to reduce the cost and time involved by allowing the drug makers to evaluate novel therapeutics at an early stage. RCSI is actively exploring partnerships with drug companies.

Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, Professor Ray Stallings said “RCSI’s research strategy has a strong focus on excellence in translational research for the benefit of patients and healthcare systems. Professor Prehn’s research exemplifies how RCSI’s translational research programmes can improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and have industrial relevance.”

This research has been supported by the Science Foundation Ireland, and Health Research Board and the European Commission.

RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

Note to Editors:
• According to the Irish Cancer Society almost 2,500 Irish people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
• It is also the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland
• The project was led by RCSI with support from Queen’s University Belfast and Paris Descartes University Medical School, and a number of Irish SMEs.

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