A pioneering new clinical trial on a drug that could potentially help millions of men with prostate cancer, is under way in Derry. Tumour samples from men being treated locally are being collated to test the drug's effectiveness at the Clinical Transitional Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC), labs on the Altnagelvin Hospital site. The new trials are the result of a partnership with American pharmaceutical company Lantern Pharma and the PRAISE (prostate cancer artificial intelligence study using ex vivo models) trial is using artificial intelligence to test a cancer drug called LP-184 to predict which types of tumours are sensitive to it. The company said the groundbreaking work, which is partially funded by Invest NI, does not involve human or animals trials due to the use of AI. The new project will help guide future cancer research and clinical trials and early indications suggest there could also be benefits for research into the treatment of ovarian and liver cancer.
This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of WIRED magazine. Be the first to read WIRED's articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online. In November 2013, more than 100 patients with cancer - including pancreatic, breast, liver and brain tumours - embarked on clinical trials involving BPM 31510, a drug discovered by an algorithm. The story of BPM 31510 begins with the extraction of biological data from healthy and cancerous tissue samples from over 1,000 patients. This data was then processed by artificial intelligence algorithms, which analysed it and suggested possible drug treatments. "We've essentially reversed the scientific method," says Niven R Narain, the 38-year-old president and co-founder of Berg, the Boston pharma startup which makes BPM 31510. "Instead of a preconceived hypothesis that leads us to do experiments and generate a particular type of data, we allowed the biological data from the patients to lead us to the hypotheses." Making an effective cancer-fighting drug is a notoriously difficult process: according to Narain, development and production can cost pharmaceutical companies up to 2.6 billion ( 1.8bn) and take 12 to 14 years to complete. "Only one per cent of the cancer drugs that make it to clinical trials prove to be effective.
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Finding a cure for cancer is one of the Holy Grails of medicine. However, a series of recent breakthroughs raises the prospect that we're finally getting to grips with the disease that half of us will develop. Cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled over the past 40 years and already half of cancer patients live for more than ten years. But according to Professor Karol Sikora, one of the country's leading specialists and dean of the University of Buckingham Medical School, in ten years that figure will be closer to 70 per cent, meaning that, for many, cancer will become a disease you live with, rather than die from. 'Over the past decade, there has been a huge increase in our understanding of the molecular changes that occur in the body's cells that lead to cancer,' he says.
A blood test that can detect 10 types of cancer potentially years before someone becomes ill has been described as the'holy grail' of cancer research. Scientists in the US have found a simple test can pick up early signs of cancers including breast, ovarian, bowel and lung cancer. It works by picking up fragments of DNA released into the blood by fast-growing cancer cells. In a study of more than 1,400 people, the triple test achieved up to 90 per cent accuracy. Among four cancer-free people who tested positive, the US authors say two women were diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancer just months later.