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David Downs continues the fight against cancer, this time aiming to raise $1m to help bring new treatments to New Zealand

David Downs continues the fight against cancer, this time aiming to raise $1m to help bring new treatments to New Zealand

After long-time Idealog columnist, author of No.8 Re-wired and No.8 Recharged and NZTE projects general manager David Downs was told he had terminal cancer last year, he raised a big chunk of money to pay for a slot in a clinical trial for CAR-T cell therapy in the US. That saved his life. And now he's aiming to raise $1 million more to help the Malaghan Institute get the new treatment cranking in New Zealand and hopefully save a few more. 

"I know I got the fairytale outcome – but this is possible for others too. Let's raise $1 million to help fund the Malaghan Institute's CAR T-cell therapy programme, and get this breakthrough technology to other Kiwis that need it."

In January 2017, Downs was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. After a long and pretty public battle, including 12 rounds of chemotherapy (which is actually more accurate and innovative than people think), he was told his cancer was terminal and he had less than a year to live.

"However, I was lucky enough to get onto a clinical trial for a new type of cancer treatment, called CAR T-cell therapy. The treatment is highly promising and opens a new frontier in the fight against cancer. This involved me going to Boston, USA, for an expensive set of procedures. Ultimately though, it was successful and I am in complete remission."

CAR T-cell therapy involves modifying patients’ immune cells (T cells) in the laboratory, to redirect them against cancer cells. The modified T cells are then returned to the patient, where they can attack and destroy cancer cells. To date, it has proven most effective in trials targeting B-cell cancers, such as certain types of leukemia, lymphoma and myelomas. It is typically used for patients who have not responded to conventional treatments, whose only other option is palliative care. 

As an immunotherapy CAR T-cell therapy harnesses the power of the body’s own immune system. This means it can sometimes work even when a disease does not respond to conventional treatment and typically means there are fewer side effects. Because CAR T-cells are a relatively new type of treatment, they do not replace more proven therapies, but will be used when people have not responded to the treatments conventionally offered.

Now Downs wants to help bring this ground-breaking science to New Zealand with the help of The Malaghan Institute, New Zealand’s leading independent biomedical research institute. Its team undertake research in cancer, asthma and allergy, and gut health, working to harness the immune system to fight disease and improve wellbeing. 

The researchers are preparing to trial a next generation CAR T-cell therapy in 2019. This is the first trial in New Zealand, but others are underway overseas. And the goal of these investigative trials is to one day benefit as many people as possible. This could mean both their wide-spread use in patient treatment, as well as potentially expanding the treatment to include other types of cancers.

"I have committed to raise $1 million to help them. It means giving New Zealanders early access to potentially life-saving treatment. With your support we can make a real difference for New Zealand." 

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Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).