Researchers at the University of Leeds have been given the green light to start a “world’s first” clinical trial to assess the potential of a cannabis-based drug for the treatment of brain cancer.
The Brain Tumour Charity announced the three-year trial which has been backed by members of the public who raised £400,000 to fund the research. The trial was also backed by Olympic gold medal diver Tom Daley and received a £45,000 donation from Leeds Hospitals Charity.
Daley’s father died, aged 40, as the result of a brain tumour in 2011.
Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. Around 2,200 people are diagnosed with the condition in England. According to The Brain Tumour Charity, the survival time after diagnosis – even after intensive treatment – is 12-18 months.
Sativex – a cannabis-based oral spray containing both CBD and THC – will be assessed alongside chemotherapy in patients with glioblastoma where “tumours that have grown back.” The trial aims to enlist 230 patients per year at 15 hospitals around the UK.
The drug was the first medical cannabis product to be licensed in the UK. It has already been approved for the treatment of other symptoms and conditions, including for muscle stiffness and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.
Clinical oncologist Prof Susan Short, from the University of Leeds, said: “[The drug is] a very specific combination of two different cannabinoids or cannabis-like drugs.
“It looks like the drugs work by causing the cancer cells to become stressed particularly when also faced with chemotherapy.”
If the trial is successful – that is, if it is found to extend the overall length of patients’ lives, delay the progression of their disease, or improve quality of life – it could become one of the first new NHS treatments for glioblastoma patients in more than a decade.
The trial is set to begin early next year.