Health Team

U.K. cancer patients volunteer for drug trials in search for cure

Researchers with Cancer Partners UK hope their experimental trials will give hope to terminally ill cancer patients.

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LONDON — The United Kingdom is fighting cancer with a unique, controversial program: a national network of experimental cancer clinics where doctors treat terminally ill patients with untested drugs.

And its success could stretch far beyond British shores.

"It's getting people who may be in a terrible predicament, dying of cancer, to a new level of hope," said Dr. Karol Sikora, who works with Cancer Partners UK.

When Jill Bracey-Cowley learned she had bone marrow cancer, doctors gave her a maximum of two years to live.

Eight years – and many doses of experimental drugs – later, Brace-Cowley has lived to welcome six more grandchildren into the world.

"I wouldn't have known them," she said. "I'm very happy that I can come here and have this treatment, and then go and see them."

Brace-Cowley is among those volunteering to undergo experimental, untested medical treatments at the U.K.'s network of cancer clinics.

From the laboratory to the pharmacy, it can take more than a decade to develop new cancer drugs. However, Doctors with Cancer Partners UK hope to cut that time in half by experimenting on volunteers like Brace-Cowley.

"Many of our patients have been very frustrated," cancer specialist Dr. John Gribben said. "They read all the time about these great breakthroughs that are occurring, but there's been this lag-phase (between) understanding how the cancer cell works – and being able to see a cure."

In the United States, cancer patients can volunteer for experimental treatment, but there is no national system for enrollment as in the U.K. Three percent of eligible American patients end up taking part in those trials.

Researchers with Cancer Patients UK hope that their work will one day help those patients and millions more around the world.

"It's only because of the trials and that they do these studies here that they'll progress with it and find cures for different diseases," Brace-Cowley said. "It's very good work they do."


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