Vaccine treatments, big questions and eleven years

2 min read

We were pleased to see the following written question submitted by Thangam Debbonaire (Labour, Bristol West) asking of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, “… what assessment his department has made of the potential merits of the use of personalised vaccines as a treatment for brain tumours?”

In her first response to a brain tumour question in her position as a health minister Maria Caulfield responded;

“At present, no vaccine therapies are licensed for use as a treatment for brain cancer. Such treatments are used within either experimental or early-stage trial settings, therefore they are not routinely available to patients.”

No vaccine therapies are licensed for use in brain tumour patients anywhere, but there are vaccines at trial stage and, of course, we should celebrate that they have got to that point – that they have moved so far down the translational pipeline from the early-stage research. We do also know that many of these trials are taking place outside of the UK and that UK patients and their families in their desperation for options, and for hope, are researching about, gaining access to and then self-funding treatment on these overseas trials. These trials are predominantly run to a commercial imperative too. Surely UK based research funded appropriately by Government working alongside charities, like us, leading to trials involving the NHS and industry delivering hope to UK patients without the need for them to self-fund or to travel is what we must strive for.

It is what we at Brain Tumour Research campaign for.

The UK research landscape is constantly changing though and for it to be performing as effectively as possible key stakeholders must share their activities with honesty and clarity to avoid labyrinthine complexities.

That is exactly why, in our 2019 Manifesto ‘Find A Cure’, we wrote;

We will advocate for the creation of a national register of all site-specific cancer research to track all research work, grants and results to avoid duplication and enable collaboration A national register would allow researchers, universities, research institutions and the Government to present in one place exactly what research is being funded and the results that are being achieved. Furthermore, all relevant stakeholders would be able to easily see what diseases and specific cancer sites are receiving funding and how successful this funding is. It will open up the debate about need and value for money, as well as prevent duplication and encourage collaboration across the brain tumour community.”

Openness, transparency and collaboration is how we will accelerate new treatments.

We need innovation too and we have been at events this week that have been focused on how to turn the innovation of our Covid response into real progress in disease areas like brain tumours.

These are big questions about;

  • How we change the NHS from a giant hospital waiting room into a hot bed of research and innovation?
  • How we can have GPs not thinking just about what drugs they should prescribe for you, but what clinical trial they can place you on too?
  • How we can develop our world-renowned life science capability to discover, develop and deploy new therapeutics?
  • How we take our proven ability to excel in a healthcare crisis, and turn it into excelling at the day job?

If you are interested in questions like these you may be interested to access this white paper released this week;  ‘Putting Policy into Practice: Making the UK a Global Life Sciences Superpower’

What is clear is that a life science strategy that is inclusive of the NHS is critical for its success and there is the rub because the NHS is under unprecedented pressure.

We are signatories on the following e-petition;

Invest urgently in the NHS cancer workforce in the autumn Spending Review

Covid-19 exposed the terrible strain the NHS cancer workforce has been under for years. This is now the greatest threat facing the NHS. We are calling for the Government to use the Spending Review to fund the additional provision of NHS staff to diagnose, treat and care for cancer patients.

We can’t ignore this any longer. Unless the Government acts now to tackle the shortages in the cancer care workforce, this crisis is set to get worse. The Government must put forward a fully funded plan to increase the number of staff and train the future cancer workforce.

Alongside us this call is supported by Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Now, Anthony Nolan, Blood Cancer UK, Bowel Cancer UK, Teenage Cancer Trust, Young Lives vs Cancer, Target Ovarian Cancer, Cancer52, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Sarcoma UK, Leukaemia Care, Prostate Cancer UK, Action Radiotherapy, Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce.

There can be no denying there are workforce issues in the NHS as we emerge from the pandemic and this will impact on our life science vision as will the negative impact of the pandemic on the nation’s clinical research environment.

According to The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) though this can be “transformed across every part of the UK if we adopt the innovative approaches taken to tackling COVID-19.”

“The key to unlocking the benefits of clinical research for all patients is properly resourcing and embedding a culture of research into an NHS which has been overwhelmed by the pandemic”, says their report.

The pandemic has demonstrated the UK’s massive potential as a global leader in clinical research with 68 commercial COVID-19 trials initiated in 2020– the most in Europe and third only to the United States and Brazil.

However, the focus on COVID-19 has negatively impacted on research across many other diseases – including cancer, heart disease and diabetes - with clinical trials paused during the early stages of the pandemic and continued disruption since.

The UK’s research efforts are also recovering at a slower pace than some other similar countries in Europe, including Spain and Italy, who were also hit hard in the pandemic.

The report also shows that the UK has fallen down the global rankings in all phases of clinical trials in 2020.

Currently we have a complicated and confused picture with polls taken at recent events we have attended showing equal measures of optimism and pessimism

Today, to the day, eleven years ago I joined Brain Tumour Research – a year ago to mark my decade with the charity I wrote a personal blog – a year on, and every word rings true.

It continues be an honour and a privilege to work in the brain tumour community and to influence where I can and at this strange time, I have just read my public affairs blogs from the past year to reflect on what we have done together in the past 12 months. Debates in the Lords, questions in the Commons, reports in politicians’ hands, the APPG, new MPs engaged and the PM in photos and at PMQs showing his support.

Entering my twelfth year at Brain Tumour Research I am optimistic, because together we are building something truly special, something to be proud of and something unique, which befits a uniquely challenging disease. I honestly believe 1st October 2022’s end of my year 12 report will contain hugely significant developments on the pathway to better brain tumour research funding.

Our great friends at the International Brain Tumour Alliance ( IBTA) have launched an international call for submissions for BRILLIANCE! – a virtual exhibition of creative works from the global brain tumour community” This inaugural event aspires to shine a brilliant light on the inspiring creativity and diversity of the international brain tumour community. Read more about BRILLIANCE on the IBTA website.

Run the 2022 London Marathon for Brain Tumour Research - the ballot for the 2022 TCS London Marathon opens this Sunday, 3rd October.

Whether you are an artistic or athletic campaigner we thank you all for all that you have done, are doing (Good luck London Marathon runners on Sunday) and all that you will do to support the work of Brain Tumour Research.

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