Publish date: 12 March 2024

UCLH has treated the first brain cancer patient with immunotherapy prior to standard treatment as part of pioneering trial. 

Ben, 41, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, in October 2022 and took part in a world-first clinical trial where immunotherapy was given prior to the standard treatment of surgery (where appropriate), radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  

Ben, who is now doing well, started immunotherapy treatment a few weeks after his diagnosis as part of the NEAT Glioma trial that UCLH consultant medical oncologist Dr Paul Mulholland was leading. 

Ben and his fiancée Emily were well aware of the poor prognosis for people with glioblastoma. Even with the current standard treatment the average survival is nine months.

Ben and Emily Trotman on their wedding day in January 2023.jpg
Ben and Emily on their wedding day

Emily said: “Getting this diagnosis is the most traumatic experience. We were grappling with the fact that Ben had gone from being apparently perfectly healthy to having months to live. Had we not met Dr Mulholland, that would have been it for us. We felt we had a lucky break in an otherwise devastating situation.” 

Ben had a huge reaction to the treatment, a headache so severe that he had to be admitted to hospital. Dr Mulholland believed this was a rapid immune reaction in Ben’s tumour. 

Ben was back home in early December. He started the standard treatment in January and also married his fiancée Emily that month. He continues with monthly chemotherapy. 

Last summer his scan showed no evidence of high-grade disease in his tumour. His latest scan showed the same.

Ben, who works in investment banking for JP Morgan who have been “incredibly supportive” while he has been undergoing treatment, said: “We obviously don’t know what the future holds but having had the immunotherapy treatment and getting these encouraging scan results has given Emily and I a bit of hope.” 

Dr Mulholland, who leads the Glioblastoma Research Group at the UCL Cancer Institute, was unable to conclude the NEAT Glioma trial due to lack of recruitment of patients. He is keeping a close eye on Ben’s progress and is delighted to see that he is doing well. 

The NEAT Glioma trial followed the IPI-GLIO immunotherapy clinical trial, the UK’s largest-ever immunotherapy trial for brain cancer patients, funded by The National Brain Appeal, where 119 patients received immunotherapy after standard treatment.  

Dr Mulholland and his team are working hard to open more trials, including in newly diagnosed patients. 

Dame Siobhain McDonagh MP, who lost her sister, Baroness Margaret McDonagh, to glioblastoma, has been campaigning about the lack of progress in treatments for brain cancer. She met Dr Mulholland when he was treating Margaret. She is calling for a target of getting 200 glioblastoma patients into clinical trials each year; for drugs licensed for other tumours to be trialled on brain tumours; to make it a requirement that every NHS neuro-oncology multidisciplinary team includes a medical oncologist; and that every NHS doctor training to be a medical oncologist should go through a mandatory course on brain tumours.  

Dr Mulholland said: “With the increased awareness and Dame Siobhain’s McDonagh’s campaign, I’m confident that we will open more trials and will be able to recruit to them.”