Our policy on molecular diagnostics

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The growing field of precision medicine allows cancer patients’ treatment to be guided by analysis of their tumours at a molecular or genetic level. This treatment approach relies on patient access to molecular diagnostic or “genomic” tests. Cancer Research UK is leading the way in this field of research through our Stratified Medicine Programme

Drugs which can “target” cancer cells based on the variations found in those cells can offer patients better outcomes and reduced side-effects. This is also sometimes referred to as “stratified”, “personalised”, or “targeted” medicine. 

Around 90% of cancer drugs in late stage development are targeted drugs of this kind. The NHS must be ready to make these drugs available to patients once they are licensed and approved, so that people affected by cancer can benefit quickly. 

This means it’s vital patients have swift and equitable access to molecular diagnostic tests across the UK. Molecular diagnostic tests are used to determine whether a patient will benefit from a particular targeted drug for their cancer.

However, Cancer Research UK has previously found significant variation in patient access to these tests across the country. We estimate that in 2014 around 16,000 patients with colorectal cancer or non-small-cell lung cancer in England missed out on these tests (see our report Molecular Diagnostic Provision in England, below).

A new NHS Genomic Medicine Service was introduced in England in October 2018, coordinating and clarifying the approach to molecular diagnostic testing across the country. We welcome the Service’s introduction and will be closely monitoring its impact and operation. Collecting good quality data on the number of patients receiving these tests under the new Service will be vital.

We will also continue to monitor patient access to molecular diagnostic tests in the devolved nations. In Scotland, there are four well-established genomic medicine centres offering a variety of nationally-commissioned tests. 

In Wales, a National Genomic and Precision Medicine Strategy was launched in summer 2017, the delivery and implementation of which was identified as a priority in the Cancer Delivery Plan earlier that year. In Northern Ireland, a Genomic Medicine Centre has been established but there is no national Cancer Strategy which could give momentum to this agenda.

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