A cancer drug which could prolong the lives of terminally ill patients has been trialled for the first time, a hospital trust has announced.
Clinicians hope the drug, taken as an oral pill, will benefit patients with terminal forms of leukaemia and lymphoma who have run out of treatment options.
Four patients in Plymouth have become the first to be treated with the new class of BTK (Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase) inhibiting drugs.
The trial began in the city in 2012 and has since extended worldwide, with more than 30 patients currently receiving the treatment with "positive results". Professor Simon Rule, a consultant haematologist, called the study "exciting" and a "transformation" in the treatment of patients with the conditions. Professor Rule, of Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and a researcher at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said his patients had experienced "significant improvements".
"The astonishing thing about these drugs is that they have virtually no side effects, which is unprecedented from my experience," Professor Rule said.
"In some patients the effects are immediate. Patients with lots of symptoms, particularly those with lymphoma, will feel better the next day after taking the medication.
"The UK is at the forefront of this drug development and all of the studies into these drugs are being run from Plymouth. This will completely change the way we manage these diseases.
We have access to the next generation of the drug to be part of the next trial phases.
"This is not a cure for cancer but it will mean we are significantly improving our patients' life expectancy and quality of life; similar to managing a chronic condition. I have yet to come across another class of drugs in my career that has been so successful for leukaemia or lymphoma." The drugs work by inhibiting Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK), a protein which plays a role in the signals that cause growth in cancerous cells.
Blocking this causes the cancerous cells to die but normal cells are unaffected.