New hope for vulnerable bowel cancer patients

An innovative clinical research project coordinated by SAHMRI’s Precision Medicine Theme has revealed new avenues to attack bowel cancers that don’t respond to initial treatments. 

Dr Susan Woods co-led the project which was a multisite collaboration involving the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and was supported by Cancer Council SA’s Beat Cancer Project. 

Dr Woods, the leader of the Gut Cancer Group at SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide, says the project involved taking tumour samples from 19 metastatic bowel cancer patients and growing tumour cells for direct testing in the laboratory. 

“All cancers are a bit different, even though we group them together under broad headings like ‘bowel cancer’,” Dr Woods said. 

“Sadly, most of the patients included in our study will exhaust the treatment options available to them. By growing samples from each patient’s tumour, we can specifically test which drugs work best for their tumour.” 

This information was combined with a process called genomic sequencing to give the researchers a highly detailed profile of each cancer. The next step was to test whether pre-approved drugs could be effective against the tumours. 

“We selected drugs which hadn’t necessarily been used on bowel cancer before but had already been approved for human use for other conditions. That means that if any are found to be successful, we can use them to treat that patient almost straight away,” Dr Woods said. 

This process led to new treatment programs for two of the 19 patients, one of whom initially responded positively. 

“While that’s encouraging, from a broader perspective we’ve really only just scratched the surface of what might be possible,” Dr Woods said. 

“Here we have an innovative precision medicine approach that can present new treatment options for bowel cancer patients who have limited or no other options. 

“We’re hoping this work paves the way for a Phase II clinical trial. It’s likely these techniques could prove to be relevant for other solid cancers too.” 

The project also involved the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Cancer Voices SA and the US-based SEngine Precision Medicine and Columbia University Medical Centre. 

The findings were published today in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

This article originally appeared on the SAHMRI website. ACRF has granted $4.3 million to SAHMRI thanks to the generosity of our supporters for the prevention, detection and treatment of all types of cancer.