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Doctor Fiona Simpson continues crusade to improve treatments for cancer patients in 2019

Friday 07 December 2018

Doctor Fiona Simpson has dedicated her career to improving treatment options for cancer patients. The PA Research Foundation has proudly supported Dr Simpson and her revolutionary research for a number of years and will continue to support her research in 2019.

Despite several set-backs throughout her career, Dr Simpson has continued to defy the odds to discover breakthroughs for cancer patients and her latest research is set to enter a Phase II clinical trial in 2019.

The Adelaide-born, Scottish-raised researcher experienced adversity early in life, losing her father at a young age, prompting her to join workforce at just 12 years old.

With hopes to harness her academic potential, one of Dr Simpson's teachers arranged a job for her at a local vet, where she fell in love with science.

This sparked an academic journey for Dr Simpson; completing a bachelor's degree in biochemistry in Edinburgh, followed by a PhD at Cambridge University and a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Scripps Institute in California.

As fate would have it, Dr Simpson moved to Brisbane for a research job at UQ, where she would encounter Professor Ian Frazer, co-creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. Professor Frazer offered Dr Simpson her own laboratory conducting immune cell biology research and investigating cancer – with the condition that she focus on developing 'bench to bedside' applications.

Dr Simpson's commitment to improve treatment for cancer patients was deeply personal – she has lost her mother Isabel to cancer in 1999.

Dr Simpson and her team set out to determine why around 85 per cent of patients with head and neck cancers did not respond to antibody treatment.

"We know that to be effective, cancer drugs such as cetuximab have to bind to a cell's target receptors to produce an immune response that then fights the cancer. We tested a hypothesis that involved changing cell patterns using Stemetil (prochlorperazine), a drug used for nausea, and it worked!" Dr Simpson says.

This discovery led to several more, as Dr Simpson and her team trialed whether the combination of Stemetil and cetuximab would reduce or eliminate tumours, and after undertaking preclinical work and a proof of mechanism trial dubbed 'CESTEM', results revealed a remarkable breakthrough – the drug combination could move the target in patients.

Dr Simpson and her team are now in the final stages of a Phase IB trial testing dose escalation and efficacy in volunteer patients. If all goes to plan, CESTEM will move into a Phase II clinical trial in 2019, followed by a Phase III trial to test whether it is better than current treatments.

A positive result could revolutionise treatment for patients with head, neck and breast cancer, as well as those suffering with adenoid cystic carcinomas.

After experiencing her lab almost shutting down four times due to lack of funding, Dr Simpson is no stranger to adversity – but she refuses to give up out of 'sheer bloody-mindedness' on her crusade to improve treatments for cancer patients.

"We could give up now – struggling to keep everything funded and pushing to Phase II – but we won't and we can't. For us it is all about the patients."

Adapted from article by UQMedicine Magazine.You can read the original article here.

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