A Blyth man has become the first to sign up to a revolutionary new personalised cancer treatment.
John Reid, who has pancreatic cancer, is the first person to sign up to PROSPECT-NE, which is being funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in Newcastle.
The PROSPECT-NE genome sequencing project will work with up to 800 cancer patients from across the North East and Cumbria over the next four years.
It will help develop personal cancer treatments, find out how cancer is impacting on patients’ health and determine in advance if side-effects are likely from treatment.
It is being funded by an £892,000 contribution from the Foundation, with patrons Alan Shearer and Steve Harper joining Sir Bobby’s wife Lady Elsie on a tour of the facility at the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s new state-of-the-art Newcastle Molecular Pathology Node Proximity Lab.
John, 68, a former shipyard worker, said: “It’s been very interesting seeing what’s going to happen to my samples after they’re taken.
“It’s all very complicated but I understand a little bit about the work here and I think it’s money very well spent.
“Somebody’s got to be first on the project, so why not me? If not me, it would be somebody else. I hope it’s going to work for me. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But it gives you hope.”
Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper said: “It was a pleasure talking to John.
“He’s the first person on the PROSPECT-NE programme and I think coming here today, being able to see and learn about everything, means he can trust the process and the wonderful work going on here.
“He has such a warm personality and was telling me all about his cancer and what the next stage is for him.
“Obviously, we all wish him the very best with his treatment.”
Dr Alastair Greystoke, senior lecturer at Newcastle University and one of the Sir Bobby Robson Centre consultants running PROSPECT-NE, said: “We’re increasingly aware that every patient’s cancer is different.”
“We want to determine the abnormalities that may be found in the tumours of our patients; this will allow us to choose which are the most promising clinical trials targeting specific tumours that we should try and bring to this region.
“We know from previous, more limited projects, that the tumour profiles of our patients in the North East may be very different from patients in the USA, or even in London.
“And we can now identify some of the individual abnormalities in a patients’ cancer, which may have allowed the cancer to form, grow and spread.
“In future this may allow us to target tumours with treatments that have been tailored to that individual tumour profile.
“We’ve really only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding cancer and genes.”
PROSPECT-NE is also finding out more about naturally-occurring substances in blood called biomarkers, which can help guide treatment for patients with cancer.
These include biomarkers that can tell more about the tumour, such as any tumour cells, proteins or genetic material circulating around the body.
Dr Greystoke added: “We want to know if we can get more information from the blood about patients’ general health, to measure how the cancer is impacting on their body and maybe tell us if there is an increased chance of them experiencing side-effects from treatment.
“By testing blood biomarkers, we can see how they change over time and whether they can give us additional information about cancer and health.”
The number of cases of cancer in the North East and Cumbria is higher than the national average and the Sir Bobby Robson Centre sees around 450 new patients every year.
Alan Shearer said: “One of the first questions I asked today was, would you be able to do this research without funds from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation?
“And the answer was ‘no,’ so it’s all coming from Sir Bobby’s charity, which is just incredible.
“I’ve been walking around here with John, who’s the first person signed up to PROSPECT-NE. It was a great pleasure to meet him and let’s all hope that he’ll benefit from taking part in this project.
“It’s hugely important to see where the money raised is being spent and it’s been fantastic to see the hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes.”