Tumour donated from five-year-old football fan who died of cancer leads to breakthrough drug

The development of a new cancer drug which fights one of the biggest killers of children has been boosted by research on the tumour of a young Canaries fan.

Sophie Taylor was just five years old when she died from bone cancer. Her parents donated the tumour to medical research in the hope it might provide a cure for the disease which claimed their daughter's life.

That research has led to a new drug that is thought to work against all main types of primary bone cancer and has been described by the scientists who developed it as "the most important drug discovery in the field" for nearly half a century.

The findings, published in the Journal of Bone Oncology, showed the drug can increase survival rates by 50% without the need for surgery or chemotherapy.

Lead researcher Dr Darrell Green was inspired to study childhood bone cancer after his best friend died from the disease as a teenager.

The death of a childhood friend led Dr Darrell Green into a career in medical science. Credit: ITV News Anglia

He said: "I wanted to understand the underlying biology of cancer spread so that we can intervene at the clinical level and develop new treatments so that patients won't have to go through the things my friend Ben went through.

"Everything that I'm doing is in his name. He's now got a legacy. It was his biggest fear before he passed away that he would be forgotten. And that's something I've always remembered. This is a way to remember him."

Bone cancer is the third most common solid childhood cancer, after brain and kidney, with around 52,000 new cases every year worldwide.

At present, the treatment for bone cancers is chemotherapy and limb amputation, which has a 42% chance of survival.

Sophie, from Norwich, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2018 and had part of her leg amputated but, despite the cancer spreading, she continued to encourage others.

She gained a legion of supporters - including former Norwich City footballer James Maddison who she described as her best friend.

But a year later Sophie died when the cancer reached her lungs.

Five-year-old Sophie Taylor from Norwich died of bone cancer in 2019.

Her father Alex said: "The day that Sophie was diagnosed there was a little boy sat opposite her who was in tears. She got out of her bed and took sweets over to give to him to make sure he was all right. Only half an hour later we were told she had cancer.

"She had that kind of outlook. She wanted to help other people as well. She would regularly say 'people are giving things to me, I want to give things to other people.'

"Were she here, I think she'd be immensely proud that she has contributed to such a positive breakthrough."

The researchers said the drug was undergoing toxicology assessment, after which the team would approach the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) for approval to start a human clinical trial.

The research, funded by Sir William Coxen Trust and the cancer charity Big C, also included scientists from the University of Sheffield, Newcastle University, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Birmingham, and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.