The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi has initiated a ground breaking cancer drug trial, the first of its kind in Africa, to assess the efficacy of a novel treatment that inhibits a gene mutation that triggers cancer in patients.
The facility is the only location in Africa selected for the trial of this new therapy. The trial comes after a similar drug was given the green light by the FDA for treating lung cancer in 2021.
According to Professor Mansoor Saleh, the Director of the Cancer Centre and Clinical Research Unit at Aga Khan University, the gene being targeted in the trial is the KRAS gene.
He says that the KRAS gene is a housekeeping gene found in all cells of the body and plays a role in the growth and survival of normal cells.
In most cases, the KRAS gene is activated when certain parts of the body need to grow and becomes functional, then goes back to an inactive state.
However, in some cases, KRAS activation can become uncontrolled, leading to uncontrolled growth and potentially resulting in cancer.
Around 30% of cancer tumours are caused by a mutated KRAS gene that is continuously activated, and the KRAS G12C Oncogene specifically is known to contribute to the development of lung cancer, colon cancer, and other types of cancer.
The first participant in the trial on the African continent is a Ugandan national who is currently undergoing the experimental treatment.
In Kenya, cancer is the third leading cause of death, with the World Health Organization estimating that there are over 40,000 new cases and over 28,000 deaths from the disease annually.
“The Cancer Centre at the Aga Khan University Hospital recently embarked on a clinical trial to test the anti-tumour 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,” says Prof Saleh.