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Clinical trials programme kicks off with pulse survey

As part of our ‘Reducing Bureaucracy in Clinical Trials’ programme, Birmingham Health Partners is seeking the views of research-active colleagues from across the research partnership to help inform our strategy and ensure patients get access to clinical trials, quicker.

BHP’s Clinical Trials working group – established in 2018 by Professor Pam Kearns – has highlighted a number of opportunities to increase efficiency and allow us to build on the growing national momentum to improve clinical trials delivery. Now, with the ultimate aim of reducing the overall time taken to set up academic clinical trials led within BHP, we are working to improve the experience of colleagues facilitating and navigating the set-up process and welcome views from Chief and Principal Investigators, trial management teams, R&D and support staff.

Senior Programme Lead Amy Smith said: “Input from colleagues across the BHP research community will be vital for our programme. By understanding your current experiences, we’ll be able to identify areas for improvement and ensure the right support is in place at every stage of the process.”

Sir David Nicholson, BHP board member and sponsor of the project, said: “This pivotal initiative is based on BHP’s shared belief that all patients should have the opportunity to take part in research, and the knowledge that research-active healthcare organisations perform better. We are all committed to working together to reduce bureaucracy and duplication of effort in clinical trials through this project, which will offer patients access to trials sooner and ensure innovations reach the clinic more quickly. The fantastic diversity of our regional population also means that our research, and the commercial innovations which result from it, will be applicable nationally and globally.”

The survey can be accessed at the following link – Reducing Bureaucracy Programme: Experience Survey – and is open to employees of any BHP member organisation involved in research delivery. The deadline for responses is Monday 12 August 2024.

The programme has been established to respond the challenges identified in recent reviews by Professor Adam Tickell and Lord O’Shaughnessy.

World-first colorectal cancer vaccine trial treats first UK patient in Birmingham

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB), operated by BHP founder-member University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, has treated its first patient in England with a personalised vaccine against their bowel cancer, in a clinical trial which is part of NHS England’s new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad (CVLP).

In a national first, father-of-four Elliot Pfebve received the developmental jab within the Clinical Research Facility at QEHB, one of several sites taking part in the colorectal cancer vaccine trial sponsored by BioNTech SE.

The trial is one of several that will be taking place in NHS trusts across the country to treat different types of cancer. Thousands more patients are expected to benefit from NHS England’s new CVLP, which will enable those wanting to participate in clinical trials to be fast-tracked to one of the nearest participating hospitals.

Patients who agree to take part have a sample of their cancer tissue and a blood test taken. If they meet a clinical trial’s eligibility criteria, they can be referred to their nearest participating NHS site, meaning patients from hospitals across the country will find it easier than ever to take part in groundbreaking research.

The investigational cancer vaccines evaluated in the colorectal cancer trial are based on mRNA – the same technology used for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine – and are created by analysing a patient’s tumour to identify mutations specific to their own cancer. Using this information, medics then create an experimental individualised cancer vaccine.

The developmental vaccines are designed to induce an immune response that may prevent cancer from returning after surgery on the primary tumour, by stimulating the patient’s immune system to specifically recognise and potentially destroy any remaining cancer cells.

The investigational cancer vaccines being jointly developed by biopharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, are still undergoing trials and have not yet been approved by regulators.

Higher-education lecturer Elliot, 55, had no cancer symptoms and was diagnosed through a routine health check with his GP.

A CT scan and a colonoscopy confirmed he had colon cancer and Eliott had surgery to remove the tumour and 30cm of his large intestine. He was then referred to the QEHB for initial rounds of chemotherapy and to take part in a clinical trial.

Eliott said: “Taking part in this trial tallies with my profession as a lecturer, and as a community-centred person. I want to impact other people’s lives positively and help them realise their potential.

“Through the potential of this trial, if it is successful, it may help thousands, if not millions of people, so they can have hope, and may not experience all I have gone through. I hope this will help other people.”

Thirty hospitals in England are already signed up to the pioneering Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad – one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world – with more sites joining the platform over the coming months.

The scheme aims to expand and work with a range of partners in the pharmaceutical industry to include patients across many cancer types who could potentially join a vaccine trial, such as those with pancreatic and lung cancer.

Principal Investigator for the trial at QEHB, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Dr Victoria Kunene, said: “The investigational cancer vaccines are based on mRNA and are created by analysing a patient’s tumour to identify mutations specific to their own cancer. Using this information, we can create an individualised investigational cancer vaccine, but it is too early yet to say if these will be successful, though we are extremely hopeful.

“Based on the limited data we currently have of the in-body response to the vaccine, this could prove to be a significant and positive development for patients, but more data is yet needed and we continue to recruit suitable patients to the trial to establish this further.”

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “Seeing Elliot receive his first treatment as part of the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad is a landmark moment for patients and the health service as we seek to develop better and more effective ways to stop this disease. 

“Thanks to advances in care and treatment, cancer survival is at an all-time high in this country, but these vaccine trials could one day offer us a way of vaccinating people against their own cancer to help save more lives.

“The NHS is in a unique position to deliver this kind of world-leading research at size and scale, and as more of these trials get up and running at hospitals across the country, our national match-making service will ensure as many eligible patients as possible get the opportunity to access them.”

Trials have already enlisted dozens of patients, although the majority of participants are expected to be enrolled from 2026 onwards.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer at the NHS said: “We know that even after a successful operation, cancers can sometimes return because a few cancer cells are left in the body, but using a vaccine to target those remaining cells may be a way to stop this happening.

“Access to clinical trials could provide another option for patients and their families, and I’m delighted that through our national launch pad we will be widening the opportunities to be part of these trials for many more people, with thousands of patients expected to be recruited in the next year.”

Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, Iain Foulkes, said: “It’s incredibly exciting that patients in England are beginning to access personalised cancer vaccines for bowel cancer.

“This technology pioneers the use of mRNA-based vaccines to sensitise people’s immune system and in turn detect and target cancer at its earliest stages. Clinical trials like this are vital in helping more people live longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer. If successful, the vaccine will be a game changer in preventing the onset or return of bowel cancer.”

Last year, the Government signed an agreement with BioNTech to provide up to 10,000 patients with precision cancer immunotherapies by 2030.

BioNTech has already begun conducting clinical trials in the UK, and the NHS launch pad is helping to accelerate the identification of eligible patients for those trials in England.

The vaccines being tested as part of the trials aim to help patients with different types of cancer and, if successfully developed, researched and approved, cancer vaccines could become part of standard care.

The NHS is working in partnership with Genomics England on the launch pad, with work already helping patients access the latest testing technologies and ensures they are given more targeted precision treatments for their cancer.

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E-MOTIVE wins prestigious Trial of the Year Award

The landmark E-MOTIVE study, led by University of Birmingham researchers and coordinated by the Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit, as been awarded ‘David Sackett Trial of the Year Award’ by the Society of Clinical Trials, recognising the importance of the findings and the potential impact as the simple, low-cost approach is rolled out around the world, dramatically improving maternal health across the globe. The trial tested a package of low-cost interventions that resulted in a 60% reduction in heavy bleeding following childbirth.

Each year the award goes to a randomized, controlled trial published in the previous calendar year that is considered to improve the lot of humankind and provide the basis for substantial, beneficial change in healthcare, amongst other criteria.

“This has been the largest set of nominations for the Trial of the Year Award in all my time on the committee. We received numerous nominations for worthy trials, from around the world and across a large number of clinical disciplines – including obstetrics, emergency medicine, infectious disease, and cancer. We had a challenging time as a committee to choose a winner” said Andrew Cook, Chair of the SCT David Sackett Trial of the Year Committee.

Postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), or severe bleeding after birth, is the leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide. It affects an estimated 14 million women each year and results in around 70 000 deaths – mostly in low and middle-income countries – equivalent to 1 death every 6 minutes. The E-MOTIVE study found that objectively measuring blood loss using a simple, low-cost collection device called a ‘drape’ and bundling together WHO-recommended treatments – rather than offering them sequentially – reduced severe bleeding by 60%, and women were less likely to lose their life.

Dr Adam Devall collected the award, on behalf of the E-MOTIVE team, from the Society of Clinical Trials 45th Annual Meeting, in Boston, USA, and said: “I’m honoured to accept the Trial of the Year Award on behalf of the E-MOTIVE project. E-MOTIVE was a huge international team effort, and this award speaks to the dedication of teams at each of our 80+ sites. More high-quality clinical trial evidence is desperately needed for pregnancy and maternal health so we’re delighted to receive this recognition of our work and the impact it will have on deaths from PPH.”

Professor Arri Coomarasamy, who led the E-MOTIVE trial and is the Co-Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Global Women’s Health at the University of Birmingham said: “This new approach to treating postpartum haemorrhage could radically improve women’s chances of surviving childbirth globally, helping them get the treatment they need when they need it”.

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Birmingham Health Partners announces theme leads to drive strategy

The second city’s clinical-academic alliance, Birmingham Health Partners, has appointed three strategic theme leads to support the implementation of its new five-year mission: to work together, transforming Birmingham’s healthcare through high impact innovation.

Taking the new role of Health Inequalities Lead, Dr Joht Singh Chandan is a Clinical Associate Professor in Public Health at the University of Birmingham where his research focuses on identifying and addressing health inequalities – with a particular interest in abuse and violence prevention inspired by many years of working as a voluntary police officer.

As the UK’s third-poorest city, with a diverse ethnic profile and socioeconomic demographics, Birmingham experiences significant health disparities. Joht will develop a detailed action plan for improving population health in the city, underpinned by his experience of issues that impact widely on health and wellbeing; factors that prevent early detection; and barriers to accessing healthcare.

Joht said: “We shouldn’t see reducing health inequality as just the responsibility of public health bodies. The determinants of inequality are so interlinked that not only can we not tackle issues in isolation, we can’t tackle them as one institution. Working across the partnership and linking health data platforms, we’ll be able to work in a much more representative and inclusive way to improve physical and mental health outcomes for our local communities.”

Tasked with optimising data integration across the partnership, Professor Simon Ball has been appointed Academic Lead for Data. A Consultant Nephrologist, Simon has had various roles in developing electronic health care records and using data to improve patient care and support research. His other roles currently include Associate Director for the Midlands Health Data Research UK and Senior Responsible Officer for the West Midlands Secure Data Environment (WMSDE).

Simon said: “NHS Trusts in Birmingham were among the first to adopt electronic health records systems, meaning we have access to a wealth of data – including blood tests, scans and biopsies – spanning several decades. This can provide valuable insight into an array of diseases, health conditions and care pathways – but only if it is integrated. Working together, BHP and the WMSDE can ensure our data is analysed, learnt from and used to optimise healthcare across our region.”

Leading the ‘Reducing Bureaucracy in Clinical Trials’ programme is Amy Smith, an experienced Senior Programme Lead with considerable experience in clinical trials across multiple BHP NHS Trusts and NIHR infrastructure. The programme responds to the challenges identified by Professor Adam Tickell and Lord O’Shaughnessy, ensuring patients in Birmingham get access to clinical trials more quickly. 

Amy said: “I am very proud to be leading this exciting project which showcases BHP as a leader in clinical trials.  Through trust, transparency, and collaboration we will harness the extensive knowledge and expertise within BHP, delivering improved setup times. Ultimately our aim is to make trials accessible to a diverse range of patients, quicker – increasing our attractiveness to funders and industry partners.”

New stromal cell treatment trial for chronic inflammatory diseases

People with chronic inflammatory diseases are taking part in a new cell therapy clinical trial that one participant said made them feel “miles better”.

The POLARISE trial, being organised by BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham and funded by a grant from Innovate UK is testing a type of cell therapy – stromal cells – to see whether they can resolve symptoms and inflammation in patients with certain autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and primary sclerosing cholangitis.

A Phase 2 trial, POLARISE will investigate the safety and activity of ORBCEL – a stromal cell therapy that has been developed by Orbsen Therapeutics Ltd. Stromal cells are rare cells found naturally in the human body where they stimulate resolution of injury and inflammation via a natural healing process called efferocytosis. Stromal cells are also allogeneic – which means they can be purified from one donor and given to multiple patients without causing allergic reactions – so there is no need for donor matching.

These rare stromal cells are ethically sourced and purified from human donor tissue and expanded to therapeutic doses at the University of Birmingham’s Medicines Manufacturing Facility (MMF).

The ORBCEL therapy is administered intravenously across two visits with subsequent hospital appointments to check on the progress of their condition during a two-year trial period.

Philip Newsome, Professor of Hepatology and Honorary Consultant Hepatologist at the University of Birmingham is leading the POLARISE trial, and explained: “Stromal cells are an exciting potential treatment for inflammatory diseases. These diseases are debilitating and very hard to treat as the body has switched a natural defence system for dealing with threats to one that starts attacking itself. It’s therefore critical to find ways to support the body to naturally deal with inflammation rather than turn off the defences which can lead to all sorts of infections. Early results from previous trials using Orbsen’s ORBCEL stromal cell therapy are encouraging and we’re hopeful that the treatment will be beneficial for some patients.”

Stromal cells such as Orbsen’s ORBCEL therapy can be purified from bone marrow or umbilical cord tissues donated by healthy individuals with donor consent under ethical approval by the Anthony Nolan Trust. While each single bone marrow or umbilical cord contains only few thousand stromal cells – these cells can be purified by Orbsen’s technology to undergo controlled expansion in cleanroom bio-reactors to produce a thousand allogenic doses of ORBCEL from each tissue.

Within the Innovate UK-funded Advanced Therapies Treatment Centre (ATTC) Consortium and POLARISE trial – these tissues are transported from the Anthony Nolan centres to the Advanced Therapies Facility (ATF) at the University of Birmingham – where Orbsen and ATF staff collaborated to purify and manufacture doses of Orbsen’s Stromal cell therapy – ORBCEL- using patented technologies and Terumo’s Quantum Cell Expansion Bioreactors.

Orbsen Therapeutics Chief Scientific Officer, Steve Elliman said: “We are delighted to continue our significant and productive clinical collaborations with Prof. Newsome, the University of Birmingham – and the Anthony Nolan Trust – to determine the safety and efficacy of our ORBCEL therapies in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.

“These First in Human (FIH) trials are difficult to undertake and deliver – even more so during the COVID19 pandemic. These trials are not possible without brave patients – like Hannah Dines – who volunteer to participate in these rigorous safety trials. And so, we take this opportunity to thank the patients, nurses and clinical teams who work so hard to complete these invaluable studies.

“We look forward to completing these important safety trials and look forward to examine how ORBCEL can encourage resolution of symptoms in patients with chronic inflammatory disease.”

The Innovate UK-funded POLARISE trial represent the third major clinical trial collaboration between The University of Birmingham and Orbsen Therapeutics to assess the safety and efficacy of Orbsen’s ORBCEL therapy. Professor Phil Newsome is also leading the EU FP7 funded MERLIN clinical trial that is assessing ORBCEL as a therapy for patients with autoimmune liver diseases. The MERLIN trial is complete and is expected to report in the first half of 2024.

Orbsen is also collaborating with Prof Paul Cockwell at the University of Birmingham and Professor Giuseppe Remuzzi at the Mario Negri to assess the safety of ORBCEL as a therapy for Chronic Kidney Disease caused by Type 2 diabetes, in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial called NEPHSTROM. Professors Cockwell and Remuzzi recently published the first results from NEPHSTROM in the prestigious Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN). In the NEPHSTROM trial publication in JASN, a low dose of ORBCEL was reported to be safe and promote stabilization of kidney function over 18 months in patients suffering with Progressive Chronic Kidney Disease and type 2 diabetes.

Patient story – Hannah Dines, Rio 2016 Paralympian

Self-confessed ‘type A person’, Hannah Dines is one for setting mad goals. Born with cerebral palsy, freelance writer and sportswoman Hannah trained and raced for Great Britain in para-cycling including racing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, and now represents GB in adaptive surfing.

However, in 2021 during the buildup to the delayed Tokyo games Hannah was diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) in which the bile ducts in the liver get progressively narrower can lead to liver failure and impacts other organs like the spleen, intestines and bowel.

Hannah explains: “I was diagnosed with PSC after struggling with major fatigue and worsening of my spasticity from my cerebral palsy. I would train and feel very ill but do it anyway. I love moving my body and during the training I still felt that joy. Still, I began to fear the symptoms that would come after. I used to call it having an ‘exercise hangover’ though I rarely drank alcohol and was in my twenties. I would ensure I had at least four hours after training to collapse in bed, too tired to even watch TV, feeling too ill to sleep, known as malaise.”

“By the point of diagnosis though I was really ill and sleepy every day, I couldn’t focus but I kept pushing with my training, a part time job and then bed. Finally, a clinical doctor took my blood to put me on an alternative spasticity medication that required a liver function test. That’s when I was sent to a liver clinic and they took a liver biopsy right away and found out my sclerosis was pretty serious.

“It made all my symptoms make sense and because I was young and sporty no-one misdiagnosed me with fatty liver or alcoholism, which was nice, even if it didn’t really lessen the impact of having PSC.”

After receiving her diagnosis, qualified physiologist Hannah knew she wanted to try and take part in a clinical trial although received a series of rejections due to the advanced nature of her PSC.

Hannah continues: “I was recommended for POLARISE and I didn’t hesitate. The day after my first dose I felt incredible and not just because the clinicians administering the drugs were so nice. This effect lasted a couple of days and I truly felt released from PSC.”

“I was still competing at a sport: adaptive surfing and I booked all my contests because I knew I wouldn’t need to cancel. I laughed out loud on an aeroplane because I felt real energy for the first time in years. It was probably the steroids or a placebo effect but my liver function tests also got much better.

“My second dose was a little underwhelming compared to my first, but I still felt miles better. My “malaise” and feeling kind of “dead” had gone away.

“I used to obsess over my blood values and stopped checking them. I started setting goals more than two months in advance, which I had decided not to do after a year of having to cancel everything. We’re now six months and I still big hits of malaise but just to know that respite might be possible like at the start of my trial…that’s really special..

“All I can do is hope the findings are positive and this can become a regular treatment for people with PSC. No matter the result of POLARISE it has given me real hope for the future.”

Not letting PSC stop her, Hannah has taken up adaptive surfing and last year represented GB at the world championships, finishing fourth in her category and supporting Team GB to their most successful championships yet.

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Treatment hope for patients with rare disorder following clinical trial

Patients with a rare hereditary disorder may soon benefit from a new treatment which has undergone a promising trial at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB) – part of BHP founder-members University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The experimental drug, called mRNA-3927, has been tested on patients for the first time as part of a study into propionic acidaemia – a serious metabolic disorder which means the body is unable to process certain parts of proteins and fats properly. This can lead to a build-up of harmful substances in the body and, without appropriate treatment, can be fatal.

Patients with this condition must follow a specific diet, including a low protein intake and specific food for life. Symptoms include: vomiting, lethargy, dehydration, and acid build up in the body. Liver and kidney transplant is a surgical option that can help reduce the frequency of acute metabolic episodes.

QEHB is the only adult centre in the world running this study whose initial findings have just been published.

Prof. Tarekegn Hiwot, Consultant in Inherited Metabolic Disorders at QEHB and Honorary Professor in the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at fellow BHP founder the University of Birmingham, led the trial and recruited patients for the study. He said: “We conducted a study of mRNA-3927 with 16 participants to find the safety, tolerability, and optimal dose. Our interim analysis has shown significant reduction of 70% in preventing severe metabolic crisis. The treatment was safe and well tolerated.

“In summary, this study explores a promising, first of its kind treatment for propionic acidaemia using mRNA-3927, aiming to improve patients’ health and reduce dangerous metabolic events.

“This study may also serve as a proof of concept in using mRNA treatment for other life limiting single gene genetic conditions in general.”

The interim results of the study were published in Nature.

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