“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to undergo a new type of therapy that could be vitally important to the future of cancer treatment.”
These are the words of David Alston, from Sheffield, who is one of a small number of patients taking part in an early phase clinical trial supported by Yorkshire Cancer Research.
David had been busy planning his retirement when he was diagnosed with a tumour in his right kidney. He’d suffered from blood in his urine and spent a week in hospital undergoing numerous tests, leading to the discovery of the cancer in his kidney. Soon after, he underwent an operation to remove the organ.
“Being diagnosed with cancer came as a huge shock to me,” David, 66, says. “I felt I was in good health and was looking forward to planning retirement. In retrospect, everything happened very suddenly with the diagnosis followed by the operation and then the recovery and recuperation. However, I was lucky to have the support of my immediate family and the understanding of colleagues at my workplace. Being in work and having an enjoyable job meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on my own predicament.
David, who was diagnosed with cancer in his kidney.
“After my initial operation, doctors confirmed my cancer was stage four and that there was a high risk that it would return. My surgeon indicated that he thought my cancer had been contained in the kidney but given that after a kidney operation there is not a generally followed path of treatment, he nonetheless recommended that I investigate a clinical trial which he knew was underway involving a new type of treatment called immunotherapy.”
After attending an appointment to discuss the trial, David underwent a further scan to check if his cancer had progressed. This time, the scan detected cancerous lesions in his lung, adrenal gland and small bowel.
David said: “The scan meant I was going to have to undergo some sort of treatment, so I decided to go ahead with the immunotherapy trial. It was in the news as the pioneers of the approach had just received the 2018 Nobel Prize for Medical Science. I wasn’t particularly thinking about my own prognosis or the personal outcome. I was aware of the potential importance of immunotherapy in the future of cancer treatment. I joined the trial in the hope that somebody could learn something from my experience and that hopefully it would have a good outcome for me. I was told that other options would be available down the line in any event.”
David joined a trial funded by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb and supported through the Yorkshire Cancer Research Centre for Early Phase Clinical Trials, which was launched in 2014 to give patients living in the region more access to innovative treatments.
Formed in partnership with the Clinical Trials Research Unit at the University of Leeds and clinicians and scientists at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, York, Hull and Bradford and associated hospital staff, the Centre provides the infrastructure needed to bring more clinical trials to Yorkshire.
More than 300 patients have so far been recruited to 10 trials. The Centre has also attracted more than £6m in clinical trial research funding from various charities, pharmaceutical companies and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
One of the main aims of the Centre is to provide mentorship, guidance and support for the region’s cancer researchers. Several workshops have been held in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull to improve understanding of how to run clinical trials and how more funding can be secured.
The Centre has funded the appointment of project managers and research nurses at sites across the region to help recruit more patients in Yorkshire onto clinical trials, and staff have attended events to help raise awareness of clinical trials among patients and healthcare professionals.
Professor Julia Brown, Director of the Leeds Institute of Clinical Trials Research, said: “With the support of Yorkshire Cancer Research, we are delighted to be able to deliver clinical trials research in Yorkshire which is essential to developing the evidence base for new treatments for patients. As well as unlocking resource to support high quality trial proposals, patients across Yorkshire are involved in every aspect of study design and development, ensuring that research undertaken is relevant to local people.”
For David, taking part in a clinical trial has been an incredibly positive experience. Three months after beginning treatment, he underwent further scans that showed a significant reduction in the size of his tumours.
David said: “The consultants can see that the treatment is working. As well as this, the treatment is much less invasive than chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Although a raft of possible side effects was set out for me, I have in fact only suffered from minor ones such as itching and rashes and some inflammation.
“Being on a clinical trial means that I’m closely monitored in the sense that every two weeks at the beginning I had my bloods checked along with anything else that might indicate something untoward. I enjoy reassurance from the fact that I’m having regular check-ups. I also have access to a hotline in case I need to speak to somebody urgently.
“I have the highest respect for the consultants and nurses involved in the trial. Everybody I’ve come into contact with has been absolutely wonderful and supportive. I am really grateful for the fundraising and investment work that Yorkshire Cancer Research has spearheaded to enable the trials to be done in this region. ”
Being on a clinical trial means David gets closely monitored by a medical team.
David is acutely aware that he is lucky to have been one of the first people in Yorkshire to have the opportunity to access this pioneering drug, and acknowledges that not all patients are as fortunate.
David adds: “I’m not out of the woods yet and I don’t know what the future holds. However, immunotherapy could have all sorts of positive implications for future treatment of cancer patients. Everyone, I know, is looking for a ‘wonder drug’. This approach could hold the secret to cancer survival. I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of something that could prove a turning point in the treatment of cancer.”
What is a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are considered the international gold standard method to test the safety of treatments and how well they work, providing important evidence for improving treatment for future patients.
Clinical trials aim to find out which treatments are best by making a fair comparison between them. This could involve comparing a new treatment against an existing treatment, two or more existing treatments, or a new treatment against a placebo (a control substance or intervention that has no therapeutic effect).
Clinical trials can include many different types of treatment including new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new ways of doing surgery, new ways to use existing treatments and new ways to change behaviours to improve health.
For more information about clinical trials, visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-trials/.
Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
- Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
- We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
- Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
- Current statistics show that 583 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
- We aim to:
- Be the leading authority on cancer in Yorkshire, understanding the problems and priorities in the region and sharing knowledge with partners.
- Raise awareness of cancer and how to prevent it by working in local communities, schools and colleges, sports clubs and with other health-related organisations.
- Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
- Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient's journey.
- For further information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.