Myeloma UK is setting up a co-ordinated early-phase clinical trial network to give patients with the bone marrow cancer faster access to promising new treatments.

The organisation will put more than £3 million into the Myeloma Clinical Trial Network over the next five years, with additional investment to be leveraged from existing and future funding opportunities.

The aim, said Eric Low, chief executive of Myeloma UK, was to overcome through “effective co-operation and a strategic approach” many of the barriers that currently stand in the way of timely access to the best available myeloma treatments in the UK.

The network will bring together clinical specialists and researchers, the pharmaceutical industry and National Health Service regulatory bodies to conceive, design and manage a portfolio of early-phase trials with novel myeloma drugs. Recruitment for the first of these trials is expected to start in early 2010.

Eight established research centres in London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham have been selected as lead trial sites for the portfolio. They will be backed up by a National Coordinating Office based at the University of Leeds.

According to Myeloma UK, this is the first properly coordinated early-phase trial network for myeloma in the UK and the first of its kind in the world. The model could also “apply beyond myeloma and have huge implications for the way other rare disease communities trial new drugs”, Low suggested.

The eight lead trial sites are at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London; The Christie, Manchester; St James’s University Hospital, Leeds; the Royal Marsden Hospital, London; University Hospital, Birmingham; King’s College Hospital, London; Nottingham University Hospitals; and University College Hospital, London.

Myeloma patients will also be able to take part in clinical trials at collaborating centres across the UK.

Nearly 4,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with myeloma each year and there are 14,000 patients with the cancer at any one time, Myeloma UK notes. Myeloma is incurable but recently treatment advances have improved life expectancy, which was previously an average of three to five years for a newly diagnosed patient.