Immunotherapy trial targets bowel cancer

The Royal Marsden is leading one of the world’s first trials of immunotherapy in bowel cancer that has been removed by surgery. 

Immunotherapy has revolutionised the treatment of cancers such as metastatic melanoma and kidney cancers. Researchers are now applying these findings to other cancer types.

The POLEM study will recruit 402 patients across the UK to explore whether adding the immunotherapy drug avelumab to standard chemotherapy reduces the risk of stage 3 colorectal cancer returning following surgery. It is open to patients whose cancers show ‘defective mismatch repair’ (dMMR) – about one in 10 stage 3 patients.


“We know that immunotherapy only has a benefit for bowel cancer patients whose tumour has this specific genetic make-up. POLEM is looking into whether adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy following surgery can increase the cure rate in those patients.”

Dr Naureen Starling, Consultant Medical Oncologist

The trial is supported by Merck and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and is a collaboration with Royal Surrey County Hospital and the University of Oxford.