Multimillion pound project launched to improve genetic testing for cancer drugs

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK has launched a multimillion pound programme, alongside the Technology Strategy Board’s Innovation Platform, to help turn the genetic revolution into better treatment for cancer patients.

Cancer Research UK will work with hospitals and labs to improve genetic testing services. The charity will also collect genetic data from tumours and information on how gene faults affect patient survival for use in research to discover new cancer drugs targeted at specific genetic mutations.

The programme has been set up in partnership with the Technology Strategy Board – a government body that aims to support technology in areas that will boost the economy.

The Technology Strategy Board announced yesterday (Tuesday) that they will be investing up to £50 million in a new Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform to develop stratified medicine* in the UK, including funding to develop new and innovative ways to genetically test tumours. They want to make the process cheaper and more efficient.

James Peach, director of Cancer Research UK’s stratified medicine programme, said: “The aim of our programme is to improve genetic testing in the NHS while collecting valuable research data. So when personalised treatments targeting specific genes become available in the future, doctors will have access to the best possible tests to help them decide which cancer patients are suitable for these drugs.

“Our initiative will pilot new ways of genetic testing over the next two years to develop examples that the NHS can then adopt nationally.”

At the moment, some NHS hospitals are able to test the tumours of cancer patients for faulty genes. But they are not able to test for more than a few gene faults at a time. And because there is not a centralised way of collecting samples for testing, it is often done on a few samples at a time, rather than on a large scale.

The Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform is offering grants to industry-led groups to develop tests that can cover many of the known mutations of the most common types of cancers, making genetic testing cheaper, more reliable, and improving their commercial availability. Or companies can pitch to develop IT systems that can link clinical and genetic data together. Up to £5.6 million in grant funding is available**.

Cancer Research UK and commercial companies, including Life Technologies and Pfizer, will arrange for tumour samples to be collected from some lung, breast, colorectal, prostate, ovarian and skin cancer patients being treated in selected Cancer Research UK/Department of Health Experimental Cancer Medicines Centres (ECMCs) when they are diagnosed or if they have relapsed.

Funding for this part of the programme will be announced in the coming months and the first patient will be genetically tested through the programme in the first half of next year.

James Peach continued: “Although the programme won’t change the drugs patients can get straight away we know that this information on the mutations inside tumours is going to become more and more important in the future.

“We are looking forward to a time when we can match up cancer patients with the best treatments for them. They’ll get the drugs that work on the unique DNA patterns of their tumours first time round, and spare those patients who will not respond from having unnecessary treatment.”

Rob Day, head of Pfizer Oncology, UK, said: “Personalised medicines are likely to transform the way cancer is treated in the future. As a company dedicated to advancing oncology research, Pfizer Oncology is focused on discovering gene-specific targeted medicines to improve outcomes for patients with cancer. This is only part of the solution though; the first step is creating the infrastructure and clinical pathways to identify and follow up those patients who will benefit most from each individual medicine. Pfizer fully supports the work of Cancer Research UK and the Technology Strategy Board in advancing the role of genetic testing in cancer diagnosis and treatment selection.”

Peter Silvester, general manager for Life Technologies in Europe, said: “At Life Technologies we are proud to be part of this partnership in developing personalised cancer care, which helps bring about our goal of driving innovation in molecular medicine. This programme will lead to the application of innovative technologies, help contribute to better patient outcomes in the future and enable cost savings in the NHS. We commend Cancer Research UK and the Technology Strategy Board for their bold thinking in shaping this programme."

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "Improved cancer survival rates and patient experience are key priorities for the Coalition Government.

"This funding will help develop new testing techniques for doctors to work out which drugs are the most effective for different cancer patients. The research will also help in the development of new targeted drugs. The aim is to save cancer patients from unnecessary side effects from treatments and to improve cancer survival rates. The scope for stratified medicine is enormously exciting."

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical research, said: “It’s important that the NHS is ready to deal with the new generation of targeted drugs that are emerging, and that research is hardwired into the day-to-day treatment of patients.

“We hope that investing in the infrastructure to make this happen now will make a real difference for cancer patients in the future.”

Ends

For media enquiries, please call the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

* Stratified medicine means looking at large groups of cancer patients to try and find ways of predicting which treatments cancers are likely to respond to. This is one step towards ‘personalised medicine’. Once we have carried out research with large groups of cancer patients, we may be able to predict response to treatments. Then we hope we will be able to tailor cancer treatment very precisely to an individual person’s cancer.

** The rest of the £50 million will be invested over the coming 5 years, including a further £5.5 million this year to advance the development of biomarkers for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and to help develop business models in stratified medicines.

Cancer Research UK is in discussion with a number of potential commercial partners about this programme, including AstraZeneca, Life Technologies and Pfizer.