‘Milestone research’ on new cancer drug brings hope for brain tumour patients

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If proven, lymphoma drug vorinostat may be the first effective treatment for meningiomas, which grow in membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Already used to treat lymphoma in the US, vorinostat slowed the growth of the most aggressive tumours in mice. Experts identified the potential treatment after dividing tumours into four categories, instead of the current three.

The move lets doctors more accurately predict how cancer will behave and whether it will return, researchers say.

The method could also help find other therapy alternatives based on the biological drivers of the disease.

Dr David Jenkinson of The Brain Tumour Charity, which part-funded the study by Canada’s Toronto University, called for rapid human trials of vorinostat.

He said: “These are extremely exciting findings we hope will now lead to a step change in the diagnosis and treatment of meningiomas.”

Dr Jenkinson said the new classification of four molecular groups could help medics identify patients needing more aggressive treatment sooner, rather than taking a “watch and wait” approach. He added: “It’s really promising that an existing lymphoma drug has been found to target the biological drivers of the most aggressive meningiomas – and could represent the first ever drug treatment for the disease.”

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Study leader Dr Farshad Nassiri said: “For many years, patients have often needed multiple rounds of surgery and radiation, fortunately with very limited lasting effects.

“But the better understanding of the biology of the disease has now allowed us to discover the option of a medical treatment that could change the landscape for our patients.”

The study, published in the journal Nature, analysed properties of meningiomas, including DNA and proteins from 121 patients. Meningiomas account for more than a fifth of the 12,000 people diagnosed with a primary brain tumour each year in the UK.

Currently, more than 80 per cent of grade one [the least aggressive form] patients survive at least five years after diagnosis, compared with less than 60 per cent of grade three.

Researchers who divided the tumours into four new groups – MG1-MG4 – hope vorinostat could treat MG4s, which are the most aggressive and have lower survival rates.

Meningioma patient Tammy Andrews called the study a “research milestone” and potential life-saver.

The nurse and mum-oftwo, 47, had a seven-hour operation to remove most of the tumour after being diagnosed in 2019.

After thinking her life “was over”, she joined a brain tumour support group and her outlook changed.

She now helps to raise awareness of meningiomas and the need to fund research.

Tammy, of Blandford, Dorset, said the findings will “hopefully in future target tumours with an effective medical therapy that could save lives”.

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