Why diagnostics is the next big challenge for NHS cancer services

High-quality and fast diagnostic services combined with personalised medicine with companion diagnostics could be transformative.
Why diagnostics is the next big challenge for NHS cancer services

The coming decade will see a new wave of advanced biotech capable of assisting enormous strides forward in cancer care, with potential for safer, more effective treatment, improved survival and a better quality of life for patients, says Oli Hudson, content director of Wilmington Healthcare.

Expanding amounts of freely available, open access patient data can now be used by clinicians and the pharma industry to hone drug development and identify biomarkers that can help identify which drugs will work best to treat a patient’s cancer, based on the tumour’s genetic profile.

The pharmaceutical picture is exciting and personalised or precision medicine is increasingly expected to revolutionise cancer treatment, but its success depends on parallel development in companion diagnostics.

In short, this field involves bio-analytical methods designed to assess whether a patient will respond favourably to a specific medical treatment or not and the science in this field is advancing rapidly. It has changed the shape of drug development, creating an ecosystem with many stakeholders.

Whereas before a pharma company could develop a drug in relative isolation, they now need to collaborate with diagnostics manufacturers, testing laboratories, health informatics, commissioners and regulators to provide a viable, safe and cost-effective treatment pathway.

In addition, the role of the patient is of course paramount, and a large-scale data-gathering exercise is required to establish the patient populations that will benefit from therapies. It is likely industry will need the help of healthcare systems to map patient populations and get a better sense of what will work on whom and for which conditions.

Diagnostics in the NHS

With this as the background, cancer diagnosis has been put front and centre by the UK government and in England the 2019 NHS Long-Term Plan has set in place two ambitious targets.

By 2028, the proportion of cancers diagnosed at stages one and two should rise from around half to three quarters of cancer patients. Then, from 2028, 55,000 more people each year should survive their cancer for at least five years following diagnosis.

These two targets are intended to reinforce each other as we know that many cancers become more survivable if captured early, at stages one and two. And to capture them early, we need early diagnosis.

To make this a reality, the long-term plan has put in place two key pieces of infrastructure.

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