BIRMINGHAM scientists have revealed they are at the forefront of a multi-million pound major research programme which is helping to revolutionise cancer treatment for victims around the world.

More than 250 doctors, nurses and Cancer Research UK-funded researchers in the city are leading the hope for innovative therapies and cures through clinical trials.

They have been pushing forward the boundaries of gene therapy, implantable radiology devices to slow down the growth of pancreatic cancer tumours and new drugs, like Azacitidine, to control leukaemia.

Cancer Research UK teamed up with the Department of Health to make Birmingham University part of a major national network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) with trials carried out at Edgbaston’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Professor Dion Morton, head of the ECMC in Birmingham, said: “There are a range of exciting new options being developed in the treatment of cancer, including more targeted chemotherapy, gene therapy and treatments activating the body’s immune system against the disease. 

“The new centre will allow us to take these new treatments, being developed in laboratories, and get them into clinical trials, passing the benefits onto patients in the West Midlands as quickly as possible.”

Funding of £2 million started in April 2007 for the centre and will continue over the next five years with around 50 patients taking part in experimental early phases of cancer trials in Birmingham every year.

This cash is on top of the £8 million which Cancer Research UK spends every year on research projects at Birmingham University.

Professor Herbie Newell, director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, said: “These are fantastically exciting times in cancer research. Our understanding of how cancer works is evolving rapidly and this is helping us to design new treatments to target the disease.

“The number of people surviving is increasing. Thanks to research, advances are being made in the detection and treatment of cancer and more lives are being saved.” 

As all new drugs and treatments have to be thoroughly tested before they are licensed and available for patients, they go through a testing process called ‘bench to the bedside’ medicine.

The new drug is first studied in the laboratory, then enters various phases of clinical trials where doctors test the drug on larger groups of cancer patients each time. If the drug passes all these stages, the drug is then prescribed and used as part of standard treatment.