IMPACT appoints Professor Ronjon Chakraverty as Medical Director

IMPACT, the UK’s first ever clinical trials partnership dedicated to improving the outcomes for blood cancer stem cell transplant patients, has appointed Professor Ronjon Chakraverty as Medical Director.

Ronjon Chakraverty is currently Professor of Haematology at the University of Oxford. He previously led the merger of the Royal Free and University College London Hospital Haematology Departments to create one of the largest transplant programs in Europe. His research focus is upon the biology of transplant (graft-versus-host-disease, graft-versus-leukaemia) and T cell immunotherapy.

He replaces Professor David Marks, who was instrumental in building the IMPACT program from scratch.  In 2014 just one in 20 transplant patients were involved in a trial, compared to one in five cancer patients, due to relatively small patient numbers, lack of infrastructure and a complex regulatory environment. In less than three years, Professor David Marks oversaw the opening of five prospective studies in transplantation, with a further four trials due to open by mid-2021.

Professor Chakraverty is determined to ensure the continued development of IMPACT as one of the leading trials networks worldwide. Together with the many UK transplant physicians and nurses involved with IMPACT, he strongly believes that accelerating access to novel treatments in well-designed and carefully conducted trials is essential to improve outcomes for patients. He wants IMPACT to better champion the needs of patients, by bringing them into the earliest stages of trial design and creating roles where they contribute to decision-making.  

Building on his experience in training many UK transplant physicians, he also intends to develop IMPACT’s role in mentorship of younger clinical investigators, by ensuring their greater involvement in ongoing and future trials. He wants IMPACT to create new interactions between physicians and scientists, so that we better understand why existing treatments fail or succeed, and to design new treatments for the future.

Finally, Professor Chakraverty will ensure that IMPACT adapts to the emerging therapeutic landscape and builds its capabilities to run trials of other advanced cellular therapies, for example, chimeric antigen receptor T cells.

“I am excited about my new role with the IMPACT Partnership.  Together with our clinical investigators and IMPACT-funded nurses across the UK, we have a unique opportunity to significantly improve clinical outcomes for our patients and to discover new treatments for the future”.

Regulatory approval has recently been granted for two new trials, IPANEMA and MOTD:

•           IPANEMA trial

Although there are many treatments available that can successfully control myeloma, the condition remains incurable. It is a relapse-remitting cancer, which means that following treatment, patients will have a period of remission where they are not affected by their cancer. However, the myeloma will return at some point and the patient will need to undergo a different type of treatment. An autologous stem cell transplant, which uses a patient’s own stem cells, is one treatment option used to get myeloma patients back into remission.

Early research suggests treating myeloma patients with the antibody daratumumab during their transplant could increase the length of time they stay in remission afterwards. This treatment now needs to be tested on more patients so that researchers can assess its impact on transplant success. This may lead to it becoming a standard treatment for all NHS myeloma patients in the future.

•           MOTD trial

Graft vs host disease (GvHD) is a very common side effect of having a stem cell transplant that can affect patients at different times in their recovery. It’s caused when the donor’s immune cells recognise the patient’s own cells as different and start to attack them. It can often be successfully managed using a combination of drugs, steroids and other treatments which control the immune system.

However, some patients experience GvHD which doesn’t respond to standard treatments, so there is a great need to develop new alternatives. This includes treatments that prevent its onset altogether. The MOTD trial will test if new combinations of treatments (post-transplant cyclophosphamide with either a Calcineurin inhibitor or Sirolimus) are better at preventing GvHD following an allogeneic stem cell transplant than current standard treatments.

IMPACT is the UK’s first ever clinical trials partnership dedicated to improving the outcomes of stem cell transplant. It is jointly funded by Anthony Nolan, Leukaemia UK and NHS Blood and Transplant and is based at the CRCTU at the University of Birmingham.