UK researchers scoop international award for pioneering bone cancer research

The UK team behind a major medical breakthrough that could revolutionise treatment of one of the most common types of bone cancer has been awarded a prestigious international honour at a ceremony in the Netherlands last night.

The team, led by Professor Adrienne Flanagan of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), was the first to identify a genetic mutation which is present in approximately half of all types of chondrosarcomas (the second most common form of bone cancer).

This discovery has potential for patients with this particular mutation to be given more personalised treatment with drugs that target their cancer better and improve the chance of survival.

Consultant pathologist, Professor Flanagan, said:
“This is an extremely exciting discovery that has the potential to greatly improve outcomes for patients. Bone sarcomas such as chondrosarcoma can develop in any of the bones of the body. They can occur at any age but chondrosarcomas most commonly occur over the age of 40 and in men. There are approximately 400 cases of primary bone cancer in the UK each year, of which about 90 cases are chondrosarcomas.”

“Our understanding and treatment of bone cancer has changed very little in the last thirty years. In some ways we are where the treatment of breast cancer was in the 1990s. The standard treatment for chondrosarcoma is restricted to removal of the affected part, as they are resistant to chemo and radiotherapy,” she said.

“Up until now we haven’t known enough about the causes of chondrosarcomas to be able to develop effective individualised treatment for patients. Now that we have identified that between 50-65% of chondrosarcomas contain the IDH1 or IDH2 mutation, we can develop specific drugs for this group of patients,” Professor Flanagan said. This research was largely funded by Skeletal Action Cancer Trust – Bone Cancer Trust (Scat).

The RNOH is already working with leading pharmaceutical company Agios who are developing new drugs which target the IDH1-mutated tumour cells and it’s hoped that clinical trials will begin in the near future. A paper published recently in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters (ACS Publications) showed in preclinical studies this drug appeared to be effective on brain tumours with a similar mutation.

The RNOH research team, as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium is continuing its research into chondrosarcomas with a particular interest in the 40%-50% of these tumours that do not carry either an IDH1 or IDH2 mutation. The International Cancer Genome Consortium bone tumour project is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The RNOH is a national referral centre for primary bone cancer and treats approximately half of all cases of chrondrosarcoma in the UK each year.

Dr Fernanda Amary received the 2011 Jeremy Jass Prize for Research Excellence in Pathology from the Pathological Society on behalf of the team in Utrecht, Netherlands on 8 January. This prize was for the best clinical paper to be published in the prestigious Journal of Pathology.

A related paper showing that chondrosarcomas in rare syndromes was subsequently published in Nature Genetics (November 2011).

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