UK charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is investing £2.3 million in a national network of clinical trial centres, in an effort to improve the poor survival rates seen with many forms of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

The network will link 13 leading hospitals in Southampton, London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Belfast Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Oxford and Nottingham, with a hub at the University of Birmingham.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research says it is working with pharmaceutical companies and National Health Service hospitals to bring up to £50 million worth of promising new drugs to patients through the network over the next two years. The National Institute for Health Research’s Clinical Research Network will provide the necessary NHS support.

The first trials through the network, which will create as many as 500 jobs, are expected to be taken up by the end of the year. The hope is that the network will furnish a model for partnership between charities and the NHS, and for improving treatment in other rarer diseases and cancers.  

Blood cancers are the most common cause of cancer deaths in the under 35s, with new figures from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research showing that more than 12,000 people still die of these conditions in the UK each year. “With some notable exceptions, survival rates have improved very little for most forms of blood cancer in the last decade,” the charity adds.

Uneconomical to develop

As there are so many different types of blood cancers, it has often been seen as uneconomical to develop drugs for many of them, the charity notes. When new drugs are available, often clinical trials are not set up due to the difficulties of recruiting a workable number of patients at a single hospital.

Those trials that do get off the ground can take as long as 10 years to complete, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research says.

“Every doctor will tell you that they are routinely turning down promising new drugs because they don’t have the resources to conduct early stage clinical trials,” commented Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research clinical trials adviser Professor Charlie Craddock, who is director of the Centre for Clinical Haematology run by Birmingham University and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust.

“We have a moral case for getting new drugs out there as soon as possible – if you have a relative with a blood cancer, you don’t want life-saving treatment available in ten years, you want it now,” Craddock added.