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Personalised medicine one step closer

Cancer patients recruited to improve NHS gene testing

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Patients are being recruited in the UK to demonstrate how genetic tests within the NHS can match patients to the most appropriate treatment.

Cancer Research UK’s multi-million pound Stratified Medicine Programme ultimately aims to establish a world-class NHS genetic testing service for cancer patients in the UK. This means that, as and when new targeted treatments become available, doctors will have access to the tests they need to help them decide which drugs are best for their patients.

Medical staff in seven of Cancer Research UK’s existing Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) will be asking up to 9,000 patients to participate in the first phase of the Programme, which covers six different tumour types: breast, bowel, lung, prostate, ovarian and melanoma skin cancer.

The ECMCs are: The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, collectively covering more than 20 hospitals across the UK.

Patients will be asked to give consent for a small sample of their tumour to be sent to one of three leading NHS genetic testing labs – based at The Institute for Cancer Research in London, Cardiff All Wales Regional Molecular Genetics Laboratory and the West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory in Birmingham – where DNA will be extracted and analysed for a range of molecular faults linked to cancer.

This information will be stored alongside other relevant clinical information to allow researchers to compare the success of different treatments in relation to specific faults within cancer cells.

So although the Programme will not alter patients’ treatment at this stage, it’s hoped it could help scientists design better targeted treatments in the future.

Cancer Research UK, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are funding the £5.5 million programme, which is closely aligned with the government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB)’s £6 million investment in the development of tests for analysing a tumour’s genetic profile and secure software that can link this information to relevant clinical information.

James Peach, director of Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme, said: “In the ten years since the Human Genome Project was completed we’ve made huge progress in unraveling the genetic basis of cancer and understanding what drives it at a molecular level. We know that prescribing certain drugs according to the genetic basis of the tumour can improve the chances of successful treatment. And by hardwiring research into the day-to-day care of cancer patients, we can harness the power of the NHS to bring personalised medicine a step closer to reality.

“This programme marks the beginning of the journey, and there is much to be done before we can bring the benefits of personalised medicine to every cancer patient. But I’m confident that within the next few years we’ll see personalised medicine changing the face of cancer treatment and saving many more lives from cancer.”

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