CANCER RESEARCH UK will be supported by AstraZeneca and Pfizer in a multimillion pound initiative to examine how genetic tests to improve cancer diagnosis can be best rolled out across the NHS.
Cancer Research UK’s pioneering Stratified Medicine Programme will also promote research into new targeted treatments by building a database of genetic information about tumours, treatments and survival rates that will enable researchers to design more effective cancer treatments in future.
Cancer Research UK will now select six hospitals and three labs to collect tumour samples from 9,000 cancer patients around the UK, and test them for a set of gene faults specifically linked to cancer – an approach called ‘molecular diagnosis’.
Molecular diagnosis of tumours is not yet available for all patients on the NHS and currently only possible using a single test for each mutation.
But the programme aims to develop a multi-gene panel that can test for genetic markers for drugs already used in the clinic – such as EGFR for gefitinib – as well as those for promising new drugs in late-stage trials.
So as and when new targeted cancer treatments become available, doctors will have access to the tests needed to help them match the right drug to the right patient.
The programme will deliver a clear set of standards and processes for molecular diagnosis of NHS patients’ tumours, which can be scaled up to provide a national service.
This will help ensure that the hospitals and labs can deliver high quality, efficient molecular diagnosis of tumours, so all cancer patients across the NHS can get access to the tests that they need.
The £5.5m programme will be led by Cancer Research UK, with funding from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
It is closely aligned with the Technology Strategy Board’s £5.6 million investment in tumour profiling and data capture to improve cancer care and the new cancer strategy recently launched by the coalition government.
Rob Day, Head of Pfizer Oncology, UK, said: “Pfizer is delighted to partner with Cancer Research UK on the Stratified Medicine programme to advance the role of genetic testing in cancer diagnosis and treatment selection. 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.”
Dr Susan Galbraith, Vice President and Head of Oncology, Innovative Medicines, at AstraZeneca, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this collaboration. AstraZeneca has spent over fifty years at the forefront of cancer research and it is our view that better understanding of which patients will benefit from treatment with currently available and new therapies is the way forward in fighting this disease.’
“This collaboration is particularly exciting as by building a database of tumour genetic information, treatments and outcomes, we can better understand which targets for new drugs occur in which patients. The information currently available on this is often incomplete. This kind of testing will mean better selection of patients for clinical trials with drugs which are more likely to make an impact on their disease. Ultimately this will help us develop drugs which improve the survival of patients with cancer.”
Paul Mason, Head of Development at the Technology Strategy Board, said: “We are delighted to be working with Cancer Research UK in this exciting area. The alignment of our activities to build a national programme, and their contribution to the Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform, will go a long way to help generate the critical mass the UK needs.”
James Peach, director of Cancer Research UK’s stratified medicine programme, said: “Cancer Research UK recognises the huge potential of personalised medicine to save lives from cancer. Such an ambitious vision could not be realised without partnership and we know that the support of AstraZeneca and Pfizer will be invaluable in facing the many challenges that lie ahead.”
“It’s important that NHS cancer patient have access to these kinds of tests to make sure they get the right treatment at the right time. And by acting now we can ensure patients benefit from personalised cancer medicines as soon as they become available.
“Cancer Research UK is proud to be leading this coordinated national effort – including the Government, NHS and pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies – that will bring us a step closer to tailored treatments becoming a routine part of NHS cancer care.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8309 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Stratified medicine means using advanced diagnostic tests (such as genetic testing) to signal which patients will respond better to certain treatments – such as the use of HER2 testing before prescribing herceptin. This relies on research showing that treatments can be targeted at patients whose tumours share particular molecular characteristics.
The Technology Strategy Board’s Stratified Medicines Innovation Platform has been established to put the UK at the centre of this next generation of medicine. The programme partners (Technology Strategy Board, the Departments of Health in England and Scotland, NICE, the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK) will work together over the next 5 years to help develop and implement more targeted treatments and over £50 million of government funding will be invested in innovative research and development. Cancer is one of the SMIP priorities and grants are currently being offered to industry led groups to develop panel tests that can simultaneously detect many of the known mutations of the most common types of cancers, with the aim of making genetic testing cheaper, more reliable, and improving their commercial availability. In addition companies can apply to develop IT systems that can link clinical and genetic data together. A total of £5.6 million in grant funding is available for these two activities.