Young SA researcher to lead medicinal cannabis cancer trial

A University of Adelaide team led by 40 Under 40 winner Hannah Wardill will trial the impact of medicinal cannabis in alleviating the harsh side effects of advanced cancer treatments after receiving $1.5 million in federal funding.

May 14, 2021, updated May 17, 2021

The trial is set to involve 176 South Australian advanced cancer patients across a broad range of cancers, but is not likely to begin for another 12 months.

Announced last week, the Medical Research Future Fund investment was awarded to Dr Hannah Wardill for the CANCAN trial – a large clinical study that aims to guide clinical practice.

Wardill won the Social Impact award at InDaily’s 40 Under 40 in 2020 for her work advocating for cancer survivors while trying to find ways to improve the lives of people with cancer.

Wardill said cancer therapies were highly toxic and caused a range of physical and psychosocial symptoms that negatively impacted quality of life, dose intensity and survival.

“When people have certain side effects they often have their chemotherapy reduced, they’ll take a break for a while or if it gets really bad they’ll stop the treatment altogether,” she told InDaily.

“So we’re looking to capture those types of outcomes as well to understand whether medicinal cannabis can alleviate those symptoms to a degree to allow the patient to carry on with their treatment as originally intended.

“By controlling side effects we really do hope the treatment can carry on to the point where the tumour is killed by the chemotherapy, but it is a tricky balancing act.”

The cannabis medicine to be used in the study will be provided by LeafCann Group, an Adelaide-based, federally licensed medicinal cannabis company.

Hannah Wardill was named winner of the Social Impact award by Community Corporate at InDaily’s 40 Under 40 for 2020. Image: Morgan Sette.

Wardill said the cannabis medicine would likely be in an oral oil form but that may be subject to the results of sessions with consumer advocacy groups in the coming months.

She said although the administrative process would begin straight away, logistical hurdles such as human ethical approvals meant the trial was not likely to begin for another 9-12 months.

“Realistically the recruitment for the clinical trial will optimistically start in about nine months but human ethics is naturally a challenge and there are always a lot of things we need to tick off before we can begin,” Wardill said.

“What we will look to do is engage with people through consumer advocacy groups to begin having some focus groups on what some of the barriers around and perspectives of medicinal cannabis are.

“We are providing an oral oil that people are able to swish around in their mouth for a few seconds and spit out but these are important points we want to clarify with our focus groups around whether people are interested in taking the product in specific forms but at the moment we’re looking at an oral oil.”

Patients in South Australia can access medicinal cannabis on prescription from their authorised medical practitioner and dispensed by a pharmacist following federal legislation that came into law in November 2016.

There is not a restricted list of medical conditions for which medicinal cannabis may be prescribed in South Australia.

The 40 Under 40 Social Impact award winner said that up until now, the use of medicinal cannabis had been driven by patients and their advocates, a move that challenged medical professionals who felt ill-equipped to guide their patients due to the lack of empirical evidence.

“We hope the CANCAN trial will show that targeting gut distress, due to mucosal injury, with medical cannabis will improve patient wellbeing and maintenance of intended dosing,” she said.

“It’s also hoped the personalised CBD and THC preparation will prevent and manage clusters of related side effects of cancer therapy including detrimental effects to sleep, appetite, mood, pain and fatigue.”

The InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards will be held on Thursday 10 June at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Tickets are on sale now.

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