The Gut Cancer Foundation  has funded Professor Peter Shepherd and his team at Auckland University to study the the effect combining two widely available drugs (BRAF and VEGFR Inhibators) has on certain forms of colorectal (bowel) cancer, when compared with treating with one drug alone.

The team’s research has particularly focused on a form of colorectal cancer driven by mutations in the BRAF gene. This is of particular importance as this group of colorectal cancer patients usually have the worst outcomes with standard therapies.

The results of this vital research indicate that the combination of drugs (trialed in laboratory conditions), are more successful in treating the 10% of colon cancers that are driven by mutations in the BRAF gene, than existing single drug approaches. Professor Shepherd said “These result support previous work funded by the Gut Cancer Foundation and provides solid evidence to support human clinical trials of these two drugs together to be used, specifically in patients whose tumours contain a BRAF mutation. This represents about 10% of all colorectal cancers and is important as people with such tumours have worse clinical outcomes and hence the need for improved treatment.

GCF Executive Officer Liam Willis said “We are excited by the results of Professor Shepherd’s research. We recognise that there are still several steps to find out if these results will translate into better outcomes for patients with these BRAF mutant bowel cancers. However, the drugs used are already licensed for use in people, so adoption would be much quicker than for totally new drugs”.

GCF is grateful to the Ted and Mollie Carr Fund and Estate of Ernest Davis through Perpetual Guardian, for their support of this research.

Click here for a detailed overview of the research project and its findings.

Liam Lawson

The race suit worn by Red Bull Junior driver Liam Lawson in the Toyota Racing Series has sold at auction for $4,000 with the proceeds going to the Gut Cancer Foundation.

Lawson, 18, who is currently in Bahrain testing for the upcoming Formula 3 season in Europe, donated his suit at the end of the New Zealand motor racing series.

After loosing a key supporter of his international motor racing campaign to bowel cancer last year, Lawson carried the Gut Cancer Foundation logo on his racing suit and hopes the exposure has helped raise awareness for research into cancers that are diagnosed in 5,100 New Zealanders every year.

“The Gut Cancer Foundation is incredibly grateful to Liam for putting his personal race suit up for auction. His support, coupled with the amazing generosity of the new owner, will help GCF fund research into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of gut cancer,” said GCF Executive Officer, Liam Willis.

“This research is vital in our efforts to improve life expectancy, quality of life and survival rates for Kiwi’s with this disease.”

Lawson returned home for the five-round TRS championship after winning the series on debut in 2019, a feat he couldn’t quite match this year after an engine failure and subsequent loss of 31 points saw him finish runner-up after 15 races.

“The awareness raised by Liam and his team makes an invaluable contribution towards our efforts to reduce the number of New Zealanders developing this often overlooked group of cancers,” added Willis.

Each year the Gut Cancer Foundation awards a grant of $50,000 in the form of a Fellowship to support outstanding graduates who are able to combine their clinical work with research, to improve the quality of life and potential survival for people living with a gut cancer.

The current recipient of this award is Dr Janet Rhodes, part of the team led by Dr Roslyn Kemp, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago. Dr Rhodes’ study revolves around the idea of Immunoscoring colorectal cancer tissue samples.
Study Overview and current progress
Immunoscore is a tool for measuring a patient’s immune response to colorectal cancer.  Quantifying immune responses to cancer can be used to provide a more accurate prognosis of the cancer’s stage, and consequently guide treatment plans and provide better outcomes for colorectal cancer patients.

Dr Rhodes’ work aims to ensure the Immunoscore tool is is accurate for our population whilst also working to make the Immunoscore more detailed. So far the team has succeeded in using fluorescence IHC to accurately quantify cell markers that comprise the Immunoscore. They have also used fluorescence IHC to identify the more specific regulatory immune cells expected to improve the accuracy of the Immunoscore.
Future study and it’s significance
The study has now moved on to its final stage; Immunoscoring the cohort of 500 patients.  Detailed immunoscoring will allow better delineation of patients with stage II or III colorectal cancer. Dr Rhodes’ vital research has the potential to add value to this emerging tool by improving its predictive power and refining the techniques so that it can be more easily translated to the diagnostic laboratory. The practical end-goal is more accurate prognoses and improved targeting of treatment including:

identifying those at high risk of relapse and
identifying patients in whom adjuvant therapy (surgery) is not necessary