A ROMSEY professor has helped deliver a breakthrough drugs trial in Southampton.

A woman who was given just a year to live when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, says the drugs trial, co-led by professor, Gareth Griffiths of Romsey and professor Dean Fennel from Leicester has kept her alive.

73-year-old Carol Wesson was diagnosed with the disease in 2017 as a result of being exposed to asbestos at work.

Due to her poor prognosis, she was offered the chance to be part of a new trial funded by Stand Up To Cancer at Southampton’s Clinical Trials Unit, in the hope it could buy her more time.

Carol said: "I’d never been ill in my life but when I was walking my dogs, I noticed I was getting breathless. When I was told I had cancer and found out I only had a year to live, I thought, I had better go off and do as much as I can do."

Mesothelioma is traditionally treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Until now, there have been few options available when patients no longer respond to treatment.

However, the CONFIRM trial at the Cancer Research UK trials unit based at the Centre for Cancer Immunology in the University of Southampton, offered Carol the chance to try a new immunotherapy drug called nivolumab, to see if it could prolong her life by boosting the body’s immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells.

Carol continued: "When I signed up for the trial, I knew there was a chance I could benefit but I also knew I may have been given a placebo. Either way, I wanted to do it to help other people.

"During the trial, the nurse said to me, ‘There’s something about you Carol, your results are incredible.’ The tumour had reduced down to a very small amount and now I am about 90% back to normal. It completely changed my life. It’s kept me alive."

Carol is now backing Stand Up To Cancer, the joint national fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4.

In its ninth year, the campaign has raised more than £84 million and funded 59 clinical trials and projects involving over 19,000 cancer patients across the country. 

Carol was one of 332 patients with mesothelioma in either the lung or the abdomen, who became part of the randomised study where 111 patients received a placebo and 221 were given nivolumab in the hope of extending their life expectancies.

The trial is the first of its kind to show that a treatment has improved survival in patients whose mesothelioma has returned after chemotherapy.

The full results of the trial were published in The Lancet on Thursday October 14.

Prof Gareth Griffiths said, "This is a significant breakthrough because mesothelioma is a pretty nasty cancer and the treatment options have been very limited.

"Many other cancers have lots of different lines of treatments. Patients may try the first line of treatment and if that doesn’t work, they may try the second and third and even fourth. Now, what we’ve found with mesothelioma is, that if their first chemo doesn’t work, we have now found clear evidence that giving immunotherapy as a second or third line of treatment is of benefit to our patients.

"It’s a fantastic result and we hope that this could become the new standard of care for our future mesothelioma patients in the NHS."

In addition to documenting the results, Prof Griffiths and the CONFIRM team have also collected the costs involved in treating patients with this immunotherapy so that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence can consider the costs to the NHS in using this treatment against the benefits observed.