Professor Rob Ramsay received the Best of New Concepts Award at the AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) in 2015 for his research proposal looking into immunotherapy in the treatment of colorectal cancer. We recently caught up with Professor Ramsay at the ASM to find out how his project has progressed since receiving the award.
GI Cancer Institute: Professor Ramsay, tell us about what’s happened since you won the 2015 Best of New Concepts Award at the AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting.
Professor Ramsay: The winning of the award prompted a conversation with Dr Jayesh Desai, Royal Melbourne Hospital, just after the session that I presented, before I actually knew that we were the recipient of the prize. And he suggested that we put in an application to the Victorian Cancer Agency. There was a three-week deadline and I was informed that it was going to be quite an exercise. Anyway, we went through the process, submitted the application, and in January we received notification that we’d received funding to complete, or to initiate, a Phase 1 clinical trial, based exactly upon the concept I presented at AGITG September 2015.
In addition to that we were able to leverage further support from an agency in the United States, the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Foundation, they’ve been supportive of my work for some time. And, in addition to that, we’ve been able to source a second component for part of our clinical trial, from a Pharmaceutical Company, which will allow us to do the second part of the clinical studies. So, from a concept to funded trial, it’s something like three or four months – I’d have to say that was a remarkable and rather unexpected outcome.
The Best of New Concepts Award was a catalyst and, like many things, you don’t need a lot to get something going. Sometimes you need a validation or a recognition that you’ve been unable to receive elsewhere. Of course the AGITG is a group of clinicians who actually deal with patients. A lot of the cancer funding agencies are often scientists like myself, who are not so aware of what the genuine problems are in the clinic, and by spending so much time with my clinical colleagues, who are research-savvy, we have a much better recognition of what is really going on in our patients.
GI Cancer Institute: What concept did you present at the AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting?
Professor Ramsay: The concept involves increasing the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells) that target colorectal cancer and adenoid cystic carcinoma (AdCC is a rare cancer that affects the salivary gland and breast). It’s very clear to me, and I think there’s a lot of consensus now that, if a patient has a tumour with low levels of lymphocytes in that tumour, their prospects of response to treatment, and also the ultimate journey, is going to be worse. So the aim is to increase the number of immune cells finding their way to the tumour where they then kill the cancer cells, and to do that we need to have an immune stimulus. We’ve designed a strategy to induce such a stimulus to an antigen which is overexpressed in most colorectal cancers and AdCC. That approach works extremely well in pre-clinical models, and of course what we’re obliged to do now is to test its safety and ultimately its effectiveness in patients — and that’s what we’re about to do.