Printed at: 06:45:27 / 05-04-2020

Cancer drug trial helps keep grandfather healthy

Milton Keynes University Hospital has been praised by a blood cancer patient who is taking part in its NHS drug trial which has helped him keep clear of infections.

Marc Auckland, 62, is participating in the FLAIR study – run by the University of Leeds – into whether ibrutinib has fewer side effects than current chemotherapy drugs which can result in infections and breathing difficulties.

Mr Auckland was in 2016 diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), which causes the bone marrow to make too many white blood cells which are not fully developed and do not work properly. This leads to an increased risk of infections, persistent tiredness, swollen glands in the neck, armpits or groin and unusual bleeding or bruising. Treatment cannot usually cure the disease, but it can slow its progression and lead to periods of no symptoms.

Participants in the study with previously untreated CLL are randomly allocated fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab (FCR) or ibrutinib with rituximab, to compare the two. Ibrutinib works by blocking Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, a protein that keeps cancerous cells alive, whereas FCR kills these cells.

Mr Auckland, who has been taking ibrutinib since he joined the study in October 2018, said: “I still get tired, I still get infections, but not as many as before. In myself, physically and more importantly, mentally, I feel much better.

“The real deciding factor for treatment is a bone marrow biopsy. A year ago it was at 95 per cent infiltration of the cancer in the bone marrow and in October they couldn’t find any trace of the disease. My specialist said from my blood test results there was still some there, but I had made a remarkable improvement.”

About 70 per cent of people will survive for more than five years after diagnosis.

Mr Auckland said: “I’ve been given a semi-green light that my cancer is under control so I’ve got more confident to go further without picking up a strange infection. I would tell others to consider research very carefully. For me, it was the right route to go, especially as the normal treatment they would have given me is permanently damaging to the immune system and I understand would have only bought short-term improvement.

“I would tell others to consider research very carefully. For me, it was the right route to go, especially as the normal treatment they would have given me is permanently damaging to the immune system and I understand would have only bought short-term improvement.”

The FLAIR trial is funded by Cancer Research UK with support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Consultant Haematologist Dr Moez Dungarwalla, the study’s lead investigator at MKUH, said: “Ibrutinib has a lower risk of infections and side effects, which could potentially lead to significant improvements in quality of life for patients with CLL.

“Taking part in drug trials can also have great benefits for patients as it gives them access to new treatments prior to their availability on the NHS.”