Early findings show new drug could be ‘gamechanging’ for brain cancer treatment

Using ipatasertib, researchers say some brain cancers could potentially be made vulnerable to immunotherapy agent

Two people with advanced brain cancer of the sort that led to the death of the MP Tessa Jowell have responded well in a small trial to an experimental combination of chemo and immunotherapy drugs. In one case, the life-threatening tumour seems to have disappeared.

Doctors at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden hospital in London cautioned that this was very early research but said it was unusual to have such a good response in patients in an early trial.

Ten patients were enrolled in the phase I trial called Ice-Cap. They had advanced glioblastoma, a tumour in the brain similar to that which also killed US president Joe Biden’s son, Beau.

Two of the patients responded to the immunotherapy agent atezolizumab combined with ipatasertib, a new precision drug that may be able to uncloak tumours to the immune system. Most of the patients chosen for the trial had tumours with defects in a gene called Pten – and in four cases, including the two who responded so well, the Pten gene did not function at all.

Ipatasertib blocks a molecule called Akt. The scientists who presented their findings to the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting say growth signals involving Akt are used by cancers that lack a functioning Pten gene to grow and spread, which explains why patients with Pten defects might benefit most from the combination.

Hamish Mykura, 59, from West Sussex, has seen his tumour disappear from scans. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma in August 2018 and was referred to the Royal Marsden for treatment, which included chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with surgery at St George’s hospital. When the treatment stopped working and the cancer started to grow in August 2019, he joined the Ice-Cap trial. Twenty months on, Hamish has no visible cancer.

“The emotional journey I have been on over the last few years has been dramatic and, considering the seriousness of my diagnosis, it’s astonishing that I’m still here,” he said. “In fact, a few months into the trial it felt like all hope had gone as it appeared my cancer had started growing again. However, surgery revealed the growth was actually inflammation caused by the drugs attacking the tumour – they were working. Ever since, I’ve been in a great position with scans indicating my cancer is stable.

Dr Juanita Lopez, the leader of the study, said: “Brain cancer is able to evade the immune system in complex ways and, until now, immunotherapy has not worked. However, by uncloaking the disease using a new drug called ipatasertib, this study suggests that we could make some brain cancers vulnerable to atezolizumab.

“We believe that our findings open the door to the further development of what could become a gamechanging treatment option for some patients with aggressive glioblastoma brain cancer. Patients with glioblastoma have very poor survival rates, and even fewer new treatment options coming through, so any advance in outcomes would be extremely welcome.”


Sarah Boseley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'Gamechanging' cancer drug rejected for use on NHS
Nivolumab deemed too expensive for the benefits but cancer specialists urge NHS and manufacturers to reach compromise

Sarah Boseley Health editor

11, Apr, 2017 @5:01 AM

Article image
Study points toward personalised treatment for breast cancer
Research indicates that cancers are highly individual and would therefore respond best to individualised treatments

Nicola Davis

02, May, 2016 @7:29 PM

Article image
NHS preparing to offer ‘game-changing’ cancer treatment
Health service chief calls for affordable access to CAR-T, which modifies immune system to destroy cancer cells

Sarah Boseley Health editor

26, Apr, 2018 @5:29 PM

Article image
Statins 'could be valuable addition to breast cancer treatment'
Research shows some early tumours can produce molecule made from cholesterol which can mimic oestrogen

Sarah Boseley Health editor

31, May, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
AI software may help spot early signs of oesophageal cancer
Software in use at an NHS trust could prove a breakthrough in diagnosing one of the deadliest forms of cancer

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

01, Jul, 2021 @11:58 AM

Article image
Drug combination may extend pancreas cancer survival, trial finds
Liverpool University-led study found mix of two off-patent drugs upped five-year survival rate from 16% to 29% of patients

Sarah Boseley Health editor

03, Jun, 2016 @6:00 PM

Article image
NHS England announces large-scale trial of potential early cancer test
More than 100,000 volunteers aged between 50 and 77 sought to take part in Galleri blood screening

Ian Sample Science editor

13, Sep, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
UK regulator approves drug that could extend lives of breast cancer patients
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence gives NHS go-ahead to prescribe eribulin after new evidence shows drug may have ‘substantial’ benefits

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

03, Nov, 2016 @12:01 AM

Article image
Pfizer to give out breast cancer drug free while awaiting NHS decision
Pharmaceutical firm says it will offer palbociclib to patients while regulator rules on whether it should be available on NHS

Haroon Siddique

04, May, 2017 @2:25 PM

Article image
Immunotherapy: the big new hope for cancer treatment
Analysis: A combination therapy – helping the body’s own defences fight cancer cells – has shown impressive results for terminally ill melanoma patients

Sarah Boseley Health editor

01, Jun, 2015 @11:07 AM