Dr. Ruth Spearing
"Only through research will we find the cure."
Dr Ruth Spearing took up a position as a consultant haematologist in the late 1980s. In addition to direct patient care, her other passion has always been clinical research, and especially clinician-initiated trials which over the last 50 years or so have made such advances in the treatment of haematological malignancies.
In the 1980s New Zealand had one of the worst survival rates for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia as shown by the New Zealand wide trial, AML1, which for patients treated on protocol had only a 2% 5-year survival rate. As a result of these dismal results a decision was made to join an international group to ensure that New Zealand had access to the most up to date protocols and international advice. In 1989 one of Ruth’s patients became the first patient from New Zealand to be entered into the UK Medical Research Acute Myeloid Leukaemia Trials. These cutting-edge trials resulted in New Zealand rapidly achieving results that were equal to the best in the world, with instant access to new drugs and new diagnostic techniques as they became available to our UK partners.
With the retirement of her predecessor Michael Beard from Haematology in 1993, Ruth became the Principal Investigator for New Zealand for most of the UK based trials until she retired from Christchurch Hospital in 2020. Initially these also included trials for the treatment for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, including the first trials to show an actual survival advantage with a new regimen, Myeloma with its randomised trial showing the importance of autologous transplantations in this condition which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Unfortunately, the lack of funding of what were internationally regarded as “standard of care” drugs in the control arms of the trials meant that most of these trials could not continue. However, persistent lobbying of Pharmac paid off for the AML trials. The last of these AML trials, the UK MRC/NCRI AML19 trial, not only gave some of the best results New Zealand had seen in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia but also provided $4.5 million of now FDA approved drugs, $76K of free molecular tests reduced the number of patients needing to undergo an allogenic transplant (each costing an average of between 350-730 K). With the support and tuition from our UK colleagues in this trial, New Zealand was also able to set up specific laboratory techniques to look at the presence of minimal residual disease by flow cytometry in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. (Poster at Cancer at a Crossroads Conference, 2019).
Sadly, after AML19 closed to recruitment in 2020, Pharmac failed to support funding of the ‘standard of care’ drugs and this very valuable partnership ended. Ruth continues to actively lobby for changes that will make high quality clinical trials more available to New Zealanders.
Over this period New Zealand has taken part in many very important Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group trials which have helped make groundbreaking progress in haematological malignancies and made a wide variety of new drugs available to New Zealanders. Again, the lack of funding for the ‘standard of care’ drugs in the control arm has prevented New Zealand from taking part in many of these cutting-edge trials – something for which Ruth continues to campaign. Ruth was awarded a Life Membership of the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group in 2023. She continues to Co-Chair the New Zealand Subcommittee and is on the Management Committee for the very exciting Acute Myeloid Leukaemia trial which is looking to see if molecular relapse of Acute Myeloid Leukemia can be prevented from developing into a full-blown relapse by early treatment. This trial is felt to be of such importance that investigators from the MD Anderson have joined it.
In memory of Barry Mather, the person who so generously created this Trust, Ruth has become a Trustee of the CLL Advocates NZ.
Ruth was a Board member of the New Zealand Medical Association for 7 years and the Chair of the Christchurch Hospitals’ Medical Staff Association for 14 years.
In the 2023 King’s Coronation and Birthday Honours Ruth was awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Born in Cheviot and raised on our Deans family farm in the Blythe Valley, I was educated at St Margarets College in Christchurch and trained as a Registered Nurse at Christchurch Public Hospital.
I married my husband Jock in 1983 and have 4 children, Emily, Michael, Penelope and Isabelle. We were married for nearly 30 years before Jock died in 2012 from side effects of Lymphoma.
Jock was first diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia in 2005. We sought treatment from Ruth and Jock received great care and advice in the initial stages of his condition and continued support throughout his wonderful care and treatment with the team in Wellington Hospital.
I am honoured to be Patroness of The Ruth Spearing Cancer Research Trust, I know Jock would be very pleased that we give support and funding to assist with research.
My involvement with The Ruth Spearing Cancer Research Trust has come through the donation made by my Dad to set up the Trust.
Dad worked exceptionally hard all his life and was honoured to be able to support Ruth's work in some small way.
My role is overseeing the financial and regulatory aspects of the Trust.
Dr. Andrew Butler
I completed my haematology training in 2004 in Glasgow, Scotland where I worked until moving to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2007.
My areas of interests include malignant haematology and haematopoeitic cell transplantation, patient-doctor communication in the care of cancer and blood doping in sport. I have been Chair of the Transplant programme at Christchurch since 2010. It has been a great pleasure to work with my colleague, Ruth Spearing, in whose name Barry set up the trust, in order to provide the Trustees with independent clinical advice into the allocation of grants.