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Clinical trials reward 20 years of research into leukaemia

A new anti-cancer agent is entering clinical trials to treat the most common type of leukaemia.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne is implementing the phase Ia clinical trial that will demonstrate the safest dose of ABT-199, a drug designed to block the function of the Bcl-2 protein which allows leukaemia cells to live longer.

ABT-199 is being tested on a small group of patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) who have not responded satisfactorily to other treatments.

Professor Andrew Roberts, head of clinical translation at WEHI expects that if the trial is successful, a larger phase II clinical trial will be possible in one to two years.

The role of Bcl-2 in promoting cancer growth was discovered 20 years ago at WEHI, and the characteristics of the protein have since been closely studied by the Melbourne-based team and scientists from collaborating institutes.

“The institute has supported research teams that are dedicated to improving outcomes for patients,” Professor Doug Hilton, Director of WEHI said.

“In this case we are seeing more than two decades of research culminating in what we hope will be a promising new drug.”

The ACRF is proud to have been a major supporter, through a significant funding, of WEHI’s ground-breaking research into Bcl-2 and BH3 mimetic drugs (such as ABT-199).

ACRF has supported WEHI’s work over many years, with direct research grants of $3 million and a further $5 million grant awarded to the Melbourne Comprehensive Cancer Centre (of which WEHI is a major partner).