World-First GCUH Clinical Trial Delivers Successful Treatment to Lymphoma Patients

NEWS - 28 Nov 2022

Most modern medical treatments are a result of successful clinical trial research – the process where exciting discoveries move from laboratory bench to hospital bedside, helping patients live longer and lead better-quality lives. The Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct (GCHKP) is fast emerging as an Asia-Pacific location for clinical trials, due to the co-location of Griffith University with its significant focus on drug discovery, together with the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH), with its robust clinical trials unit.

The overall Gold Coast clinical trial landscape is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade, supported by government and commercial investment, and the globally recognised expertise of clinicians and researchers who are already creating a positive impact.

One of those local GCHKP clinicians and researchers is Dr Tara Cochrane, who is a Senior Haematologist at the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) and an Associate Professor at Griffith University. She and her team are passionate about clinical research and the role it plays in expanding treatment options for cancers in blood or blood-forming organs, such as lymphoma, which is her area of clinical expertise.

Dr Cochrane’s research is highly regarded worldwide, and she has been successful in obtaining almost 7 million dollars in grant funding to run lymphoma clinical trials. She is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Australasian Lymphoma and Leukaemia Group, which is Australia and New Zealand’s only not for profit blood cancer clinic trial research group. One of Dr Cochrane’s recent trials, that she is overseeing at GCUH,  is a global first that has to date produced incredibly positive results for patients with a specific type of lymphoma, who previously had no other effective treatment option.

Clinical research is a category of medical research that is essential to test new treatments and interventions for diseases and conditions.

Clinical trials, like the ones led by Dr Cochrane, are essential to advancing the medical treatment of patients worldwide. Clinical trials are a stage of medical research for those treatments, interventions, or tests that follows rigorous initial, pre-clinical testing. It is one of the final stages that confirms how a new treatment is expected to work where the intervention is trialled in real patients.

Some trials study how patients respond to a new intervention (like a new drug treatment) and what side effects might occur. This helps to determine if a new intervention works as expected, if it is safe, and if it is better than the treatments that are already available.

Dr Cochrane’s prospective Phase I clinical trial has produced incredibly positive results in patients with a specific type of lymphoma.

Dr Cochrane is a principal investigator on numerous clinical trial research projects aimed at supporting patients undergoing blood cancer treatment. One of those trials is investigating a new drug compound in patients with a particular blood cancer called ‘relapsed refractory B cell lymphoma.’ This cancer has either reappeared after a period of remission, or it had never responded to prior treatment. Many of these patients had no other effective treatment option before the trial.

The trial involves an  injection of the new drug compound in the stomach of the lymphoma patient, initially given weekly, but after a period of time the frequency is reduced to monthly. This drug is designed to  harness the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells. While the detailed results are not yet ready to be shared, Dr Cochrane said that the results for her patients so far have been incredibly positive, and some of the early data is being presented at international scientific meetings.

“This trial has given several patients a therapeutic option where there had been no therapeutic option. These patients have seen their lymphoma go into remission. And this treatment has produced very few side effects, which is exciting too, as historically we often correlate effectiveness with toxicity (the more effective treatments often had the worst side effects). So, we are moving into an era now where effective treatments are becoming much better tolerated by patients,” Dr Cochrane explained.

The impact on patients with these cancers could be huge. The results from the trial will build the foundation for the future development of new drug therapeutics, how to use them in the best available manner, and enhance accessibility to newer drug compounds not yet funded in Australia.

“There is talk of reopening one patient cohort again and recruiting more patients, which would be very exciting. It’s been great being able to have this trial open at our GCUH site because we’ve been able to offer patients an effective therapy, for the first time.”

Australian clinical trials require a large team with different skill sets, who are continually trained to provide best-practice patient care.

Prospective research, like the work conducted in Dr Cochrane’s drug trial, requires a large multi-disciplined team, strong connections between researchers and clinicians, and many other stakeholders.

“Translating the basic science into clinical research is essential. As a clinician, I have an in-depth understanding of haematological conditions and how they affect patients. I also have a detailed understanding of the available therapeutics and how well patients respond to and tolerate them. This knowledge and experience are required when managing a patient on a clinical trial, particularly when the trial is comparing a new drug compound that you have never had personal experience with.”

Dr Cochrane also emphasised the importance of a highly skilled team in running successful clinical trials – they  require the input of various colleagues and key collaborators across ethics, governance, radiology, nursing, pathology and pharmacy, to name a few.

For example, before a trial commences, a robust ethics and governance department must first approve the research protocol or proposal. Once the trial has commenced, specialised research nurses ensure that the trial is running safely for patients, and that relevant data is being captured and reported. Pharmacists are essential too, as they formulate the specific investigational drugs for the patients, and the protocols for their usage and patient care.

“At GCUH we have a thriving clinical trials department, and there is a huge amount of training that’s required. All our staff needs to be trained in good clinical practice, with an understanding of the process of ethics and trial  governance too,” Dr Cochrane said.

Clinical trials are set to grow and both organisations and people are attracted to the Precinct community.

With both the Gold Coast University Hospital and Griffith University onsite, with their focus on medical research and clinical trials including drug discovery, the GCHKP is an attractive location for clinical trials in our region. The Precinct also features Lumina, a 9.5 hectare development focussed on health, technology, and life sciences where interest is being fielded from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry in the remaining development sites and leasing opportunities.

Beyond the industries and organisations, Dr Cochrane spoke of the importance of the teams of specialised people who support the success of clinical trials. The availability of highly experienced and enthusiastic staff, and access to training, are key to the growth of clinical trials in the region. The Precinct, with its connection to established universities, and access to world-class health facilities within Lumina, presents an abundance of opportunities for jobs in the future.

To learn more about clinical trials within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, click here.

To learn more about clinical trials at Gold Coast University Hospital across different clinical areas, click here.

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