Tracking cancer evolution: the TRACERx Lung Study

TRACERx is a major research initiative which takes practical steps to make precision medicine for lung cancer patients a reality.

Using cutting-edge methods to collect and analyse genomic data, TRACERx aims to identify patients who could benefit from trials of new targeted treatments.

At £14 million, it’s the biggest single investment we've made in a lung cancer research programme, and the start of a strategic focus on the disease for Cancer Research UK.

Why lung cancer?

Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK every year, with 35,000 deaths. The most common form of the disease is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC is often diagnosed late, and it can rapidly develop resistance to treatment. Survival rates have improved only fractionally in the last 40 years, which is why it is one four cancer types that we named our priority "cancers of unmet need" in our 2014 Research Strategy.

Lung cancer places a terrible burden on our society, and outcomes are depressingly poor, especially compared to other major cancer types. In terms of ‘unmet medical need’, it’s right up there.

-Professor Charles Swanton

A large-scale, multi-disciplinary project

Led by Professor Charles Swanton at University College London and The Francis Crick Institute, TRACERx – the TRAcking Cancer Evolution through treatment (Rx) lung study – brings together a network of experts from across clinical and scientific disciplines and from research centres and hospitals around the UK. The aim is to recruit 842 NSCLC patients and to collect comprehensive genomic and clinical data from their point of diagnosis and throughout their treatment.

At the cutting edge of cancer evolution

Genetic diversity within a tumour provides the conditions for cancer evolution, which is a major challenge to improving outcomes.

Understanding the genetic complexity within a tumour and their clonal architecture really is the next frontier in cancer medicine. It’s the explanation for why we generally can’t cure cancer after its spread, and it’s why cancers can foster resistance to even the most cutting edge treatments we have.

-Professor Charles Swanton

TRACERx is using cutting edge analytical techniques to investigate the genomic landscape of NSCLC, and how tumours evolve, metastasise and develop resistance.

The team will be collecting biopsies from the tumours over the course of 5 years, and as well as taking samples of primary tumours, will sample tumours from patients whose illness recurs, and from metastases.

Read more about TRACERx

Why we’re making lung cancer a priority

Lung Cancer feature story

Patient outcomes for lung cancer are typically poor, and progress has been slow compared to other cancer types. We are now working to close this gap, investing in new infrastructure and some of our most ambitious research programmes to date.