First of its kind trial to assess cannabis medicine in brain tumours

6th August 2021

A new trial to assess the efficacy of a cannabis-based medicine in the treatment of brain tumours will be carried out in co-ordination with the NHS and UK cancer charities. The trial will be the first study of its kind in the world.

Patients with a recurrent, hard to treat brain tumour called glioblastoma will be offered Sativex – cannabis-based mouth spray – in combination with a chemotherapy medication called temozolomide. The treatment will be offered as part of the clinical trial which will aim to assess whether cannabis can kill off cancerous cells in brain tumours and help patients to live longer.

Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain tumour which often returns despite surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. It is the most common form of brain cancer with around 2,200 people in England diagnosed every year. On average, patients who are diagnosed with glioblastoma only live for 12-18 months.

Sativex is a licensed medical cannabis product that contains both CBD and THC – the two most common cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is currently prescribed in the UK for spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, where other treatment options have been unsuccessful.

The phase II trial will begin recruiting over 230 UK patients at the start of 2022 and is scheduled to run for three years, subject to sufficient funds being raised. The trial will be run at the University of Leeds and co-ordinated by the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham.

Professor Susan Short, Professor of clinical oncology and neuro-oncology at the University of Leeds, and the Principal Investigator of the trial said: “Cannabinoids have well-described effects in the brain and there has been a lot of interest in their use across different cancers for a long time now.

“Glioblastoma brain tumours have been shown to have receptors to cannabinoids on their cell surfaces, and laboratory studies on glioblastoma cells have shown these drugs may slow tumour growth and work particularly well when used with temozolomide.

“Having recently shown that a specific cannabinoid combination given by oral spray could be safely added to temozolomide chemotherapy, we’re really excited to build on these findings to assess whether this drug could help glioblastoma patients live longer in a major randomised trial.”

Professor Pam Kearns, Director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Our mission at the CRCTU is to translate cutting-edge science and research into improved patient care by identifying novel therapies that will save lives.

“It is vital that trials like this, investigating the role cannabis or the chemicals in it can play treat cancer, are carried out.”

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