New hope for cancer treatment

24 June 2003 - BREAKTHROUGH Melbourne research giving millions of cancer and AIDS patients hope was announced by Premier Steve Bracks in Washington yesterday.

Six of the world's top hospitals will test the treatment on 100 cancer patients and another 50 HIV/AIDS patients will be treated in Swiss hospitals within 12 months.
The treatment uses existing drugs to kick start the body's immune system, which is often severely damaged by aggressive cancer treatments or viruses such AIDS.

It has been hailed as one of the most significant advances in cancer treatment in decades following successful trials at the Alfred hospital.

Worldwide sales of the treatment was potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Victoria, Mr Bracks said. Speaking at the world's biggest biotechnology conference -- Bio2003 -- Mr Bracks said the treatment developed by Melbourne company Norwood Abbey and Monash University should be widely available within two years.

"The world has been waiting for a breakthrough like this and Victorian scientists have delivered it,"he said.

"This discovery cements Victoria's reputation as a leader in scientific research."

Head of immunology at the National Stem Cell Centre, Associate Professor Richard Boyd said between 60 to 80 per cent of 16 prostate cancer patients given the treatment at the Alfred had experienced significant improvement, with an average 50 per cent increase in new T cells.

Results with 20 leukemia patients who had undergone bone marrow transplants were so encouraging another 20 patients have joined the trial, due to end next year.

"It is not going to cure everyone, but at least it gives them a fighting chance,"Professor Boyd said. "In patients with diseases such as cancer and HIV, auto-immune diseases, even transplant rejection, the possibility of creating a new thymus with its unlimited store of new immune cells provides new hope."

The treatment could also be used to treat other serious viral infections and make better vaccinations.

The breakthrough flows from a discovery that a class of drugs called GnRH analogues -- used to block the production of sex hormones in people with prostrate cancer, breast cancer and endometriosis -- reverse the ageing of the thymus gland, which produces immunity T cells.

The thymus sits in the chest cavity above the heart and is roughly the size of an apple in children, but shrinks with the release of sex steroids in the body at puberty to about the size of a walnut.

The treatment involves placing an implant under the skin, which releases chemicals that temporarily shut down sex steroid production and so increase T-cell production.

It also appears to boost bone marrow production of stem cells for the thymus and blood cells.

Norwood Abbey has invested $6 million in the project and is finalising arrangements with pharmaceutical companies to make the treatment commercially available.

New hope for cancer treatment
By PETER MICKELBUROUGH, state politics reporter

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