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Birmingham leads the way in delivery of a new advanced therapy in uveal melanoma

BHP founder-member University Hospitals Birmingham is the first site in the UK to treat a uveal melanoma patient with the new therapy Tebentafusp outside a clinical trial. Uveal melanoma is a rare cancer situated within the eye. This initiative is being led by Dr Leila Khoja, Immunotherapy lead for the Birmingham Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) and senior clinical lecturer at another of BHP’s founder members, the University of Birmingham.

Developed by Immunocore PLC, Tebentafusp is a bispecific immunotherapy drug, a type of advanced therapy. Immunotherapies harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer, helping it to attack it and to prevent tumours from growing. However, in some tumours the immune response is inadequate to control the tumour and, even in tumours that respond, resistance to treatment can develop. Tebentafusp’s mechanism of action enables it to attach to the tumour and simultaneously to T-cell immune cells. This means that it is able to pull in and activate tumour specific T-cells in hard to treat tumours.

Birmingham participated in the phase II study of Tebentafusp, and the results were published in Clinical Cancer Research. This led to a phase III trial, where it was shown to offer patients better outcomes in terms of survival, when compared with standard drugs offered by their clinical teams.  It is the first drug of this type for a solid tumour that has been proven to offer this benefit to patients. Regulatory approval for Tebentafusp is in process, but the drug is currently available through a compassionate use programme.

Transferring Tebentafusp into standard clinical care for patients with solid tumours is challenging, as specialist pharmacy, nursing and junior doctor skills are required. Hospitals also need to have sufficient capacity to deliver infusions of the drug on an inpatient basis, as the dose is increased over a three week period, before it can be provided on an outpatient basis. The development of this programme will create a model for similar therapies in the future, and Birmingham ECMC is currently facilitating the setup of clinical trials in this field.

These initiatives underline the importance of the Birmingham ECMC and Midlands Wales Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre (MW-ATTC) networks in supporting the delivery of the innovative therapies of the future, training staff and providing the infrastructure required.