A Shefford grandmother who battled with cancer for seven years has come face to face with “the man that saved her life” in an emotional meeting.
Sandy Tansley, aged 73, endured surgery and countless cycles of gruelling chemotherapy for stage 3 ovarian cancer with no success, and with four tumours spreading to her stomach, the prognosis was not good.
But after being told she had “nothing to lose”, she was offered the chance to take part in a clinical trial for a new targeted treatment drug olaparib, which arose from the work of the British scientist Steve Jackson.
Two years after starting the trial, the tumours in her stomach had completely disappeared. Today, five years after being given the all clear, Sandy remains in complete remission and with the help of Worldwide Cancer Research, has finally met with Professor Jackson, the man she says she owes her life to.
Sandy said: “My oncologist suggested I go on the olaparib trial after seven years of living with cancer; the chemotherapy wasn’t working and the disease continued to spread. Although very frightened to be going on to something completely different, I knew it was my only hope.
“Within 15 months the tumours were showing a sign of shrinkage, a result previously unimagined after what I’d been through. By the end of the second year, they were completely gone, and every scan since has shown remission. To be cancer free after all those years is a dream come true; to be able to watch my grandchildren grow up when I thought I wouldn’t be around - I feel like the luckiest person in the world. I can’t put into words how grateful I am to Steve Jackson - what do you say to the man who saved your life? To get the chance to finally meet the incredible man who has given me my life back and say thank you, means the world.”
Olaparib, under the brand name Lynparza, was developed following two decades of ground-breaking research by Jackson. In his ‘eureka’ moment in the mid 1990s, when using funding from Worldwide Cancer Research, he discovered key proteins that cells use to repair damage to DNA; a major breakthrough Jackson believed could be useful for developing new cancer drugs.
Jackson set up his own company called KuDos to develop these drugs - one of which was olaparib. A decade later, clinical trials of olaparib began across the world, involving a small number of patients in a similar position to Sandy.
The drug has since been granted approval in the UK, the EU and the USA as a targeted therapy for ovarian cancer.
Professor Jackson said: “I don’t tend to think of myself as a life-saver, although if I take a step back for a moment and think about what my research has led to, then I guess I am. Without the funding from Worldwide Cancer Research and other cancer charities, this drug simply would not have been developed.
“As a cancer scientist, I don’t work in the clinical arena, so don’t come into contact with patients. To be able to meet someone that has benefited from my research, never mind whose life it has actually saved all these years later is very special, and makes everything worthwhile. It is really quite overwhelming to meet Sandy, and is something I will never forget.”
Dr Helen Rippon, CEO at Worldwide Cancer Research added: “Olaparib is a fantastic example of long-term research into experimental drugs that are beginning to bear fruit, not to mention excellence in British science and innovation that Professor Steve Jackson has led.
“It’s this type of research that can make a world-changing discovery, and our ethos at Worldwide Cancer Research in supporting up-and-coming talent as well as world renowned specialists, allows us to support and nurture those researchers that might not always get a break due to lack of funding.”