Bottoms Up! Research into Bowel Cancer Therapies Gain Funding Boost

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Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology, July 2022, Volume 46, Issue 7

Dame Deborah James’ legacy and the millions raised through her campaigning will undoubtedly be a big boost to clinical research, ultimately providing new and promising treatments for bowel cancer patients.

In late June 2022, podcast presenter and campaigner Dame Deborah James passed away after battling stage IV bowel cancer for five years. James was diagnosed at the age of 35 and since that time had championed the cause to raise awareness of bowel cancer and funding to help research in the area (1).

Despite the sad news, James’ efforts in raising the profile of bowel cancer will definitely not go unsung. In fact, since James’ diagnosis in 2016, some promising developments in the field of bowel cancer therapies have already surfaced.

Promise of immunotherapies

Immunotherapies have been around since 2014 within the oncology sector and have seen therapeutic success in cancer patients, particularly checkpoint inhibitors when combined with chemotherapy (2). However, recent results of a small clinical trial, performed at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the United States, have shown a 100% complete response rate in 14 patients after being treated with the immunotherapy dostarlimab as a first-line treatment for mismatch repair-deficient (MMRd) locally advanced rectal cancer (3). For this small study, the participants received dostarlimab alone at regular intervals for six months and as all those involved achieved a clinical complete response, none of the patients required follow up chemoradiation or surgery.

Waking up the viral response


Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have stimulated a viral-like response within tumours to reawaken the body’s own defences, allowing for the immune system to attack the cancer cells and reducing the risk of the disease spreading (4). Currently, this research is in very early stages, but the scientists are designing a clinical trial to test the approach, and it is hoped that it could lead to new treatments that are targeted for bowel cancer in the future.

Inhibiting tumour growth

In a slightly earlier study, the results of which were presented in September 2021, university researchers from the United Kingdom found that it was possible to slow tumour growth in bowel cancer patients through treatment with a small-molecule, protein-inhibitor drug, adavosertib (5). Although this trial was also small and further research in larger patient populations is required, the results are still encouraging because a subset of patients involved had tumours with two common mutations—representing a third of all bowel cancer patients.

Raising millions

Through her work, James has raised millions of pounds, which is continuing to rise posthumously and has reached, at the time of writing, more than £7 million. With the support of Cancer Research UK, the monies raised will be used to fund clinical trials and research into personalized medicine, as well as continuing to raise awareness of cancer.

Dame Deborah Anne James 1981–2022


1. R. Williams, “Dame Deborah James Dies Age 40 After Cancer Battle,” Manchester Evening News, 28 June 2022.
2. D. Crow, “Big Pharma on Mission to Bring Immunotherapy to More Patients,” Financial Times, 1 June 2018.
3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “ASCO 2022: 100% Complete Response Rate in MMRd Locally Advanced Rectal Cancer Seen in Pivotal ‘Immunoablative’ Neoadjuvant Immunotherapy Clinical Trial,” Press Release, 5 June 2022.
4. Queen’s University Belfast, “Scientists Awaken Viral Response to Target Bowel Cancer,” Press Release, 27 April 2022.
5. NIHR, “New Drug Shows Promise in Slowing Growth of Bowel Cancer,” Press Release, 20 Sep. 2021.

About the author

Felicity Thomas is the European/senior editor for Pharmaceutical Technology Group.

Article details

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 34, No. 7
July 2022
Page: 6


When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “Bottoms Up!” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 34 (7) 2022.