The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi begins clinical trial on new cancer treatment

The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (AKUH,N) has launched a first in Africa cancer drug clinical trial to investigate the effectiveness of a new treatment that blocks the activity of a gene mutation responsible for the cause of cancer in affected patients. AKUH,N is the only site selected in Africa for the testing of this new treatment.?

The study follows the approval of a similar drug to treat lung cancer by the USA's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2021.

Prof Saleh, the Director of the Aga Khan University’s Cancer Center and the Hospital’s Clinical Research Unit (CRU) explains; “The Cancer Center at the Aga Khan University Hospital recently embarked on a clinical trial to test the anti-tumor property of GDC 6036, an experimental treatment that blocks the activation of the KRAS G12C oncogene in human tumours. The pill developed by Roche Pharmaceuticals is intended to block the function of KRAS G12C and thereby stop the uncontrolled cell growth and division of the cancer in those patients," 

According to Prof Saleh, The gene in question is the KRAS gene;

“The KRAS gene is what we call a housekeeping gene, present in all cells of the body and is responsible for growth and survival of normal cells. In normal conditions, the KRAS gene gets activated when parts of the human body grow and becomes functionally active.  After that, KRAS goes into the in-active state. Sometimes, however, KRAS activation becomes uncontrolled resulting in uncontrolled growth, which then leads in some cases to cancer.  In about 30% of cancer tumours, the KRAS gene is mutated and goes into uncontrolled activation state making it a cancer-causing gene or anoncogene. The KRAS G12C Oncogene is a mutated KRAS gene, which is reportedly responsible for the development of lung cancer, colon cancers and some other human cancers”.

The first patient in the African continent on this trial is a Ugandan national who is currently receiving this experimental therapy. 

While commenting on the trial, AKUH,N's CEO Rashid Khalani noted that it is in line with the hospital's commitment to increase the participation of Africa in global cancer trials. 

“As a University Hospital we have a mandate to contribute to the development of effective and relevant treatments. We are therefore very delighted to be participating in this trial that we believe is going to develop therapies that are relevant to the African population," said Mr Khalani.

AKUH,N established its Clinical Research Unit in 2020 to spearhead clinical trials in the region and form the cornerstone of cancer research in East and Central Africa. This was informed by the need to develop treatments that are more effective in the African population since most of the drugs used for treatments are tested in western countries with limited participation of the African population. 

Photo credit: Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Article by RB reporter