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News digest – ‘Inexcusable’ Government obesity plan, tiny robots, precision medicine and… mummies?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

20 August 2016

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  • It’s a year late, but the Government’s children’s obesity plan arrived to limited fanfare. As the BBC and the Guardian reported, many – including us – were not happy with it. We feel this plan is a missed opportunity to protect the next generation from diseases like cancer, and reduce the crippling burden of obesity on the NHS. We need to see the ‘game-changing’ strategy promised by the Government a year ago.
  • The Guardian and the Daily Mail reported on the lung cancer drug crizotinib (Xalkori) becoming the latest drug to receive NHS approval via the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). This comes amid news that drug companies are cutting their prices in the hope that more drugs will be approved by NICE. But two other drugs previously available to patients through the Cancer Drugs Fund – everolimus (Afinitor) and ibrutinib (Imbruvica) – were deemed not cost-effective.
  • We launched the SPIRE clinical trial, which is testing if combining the drug guadecitabine (SGI-110) with chemotherapy is a safe and effective way to treat bladder, lung and oesophageal cancers. The trial will also study whether this combination can stop patients’ cancer becoming resistant to treatment.
  • There were lots of headlines (including the Times, Daily Mail, and Mirror) about cancer overtaking heart disease as the biggest killer. Cancer has been the leading cause of death in the UK for many years, but it’s a stark reminder of how many lives cancer claims and why we need to keep supporting research into better ways to prevent, diagnose and detect the disease.
  • The day that tiny robots – so-called nanobots – can seek and destroy cancer cells may be one step closer to reality. Canadian scientists have used magnets to guide drug-laden bacteria to a tumour. It’s only been tested in mice so far, but fascinating stuff.

Number of the week


The number of people estimated to have been overdiagnosed with thyroid cancer over two decades in 12 countries studied.

  • PharmaTimes explored the challenges ahead in making personalised cancer treatment work in the NHS, including the thoughts of one of our experts.
  • Cancer patients over the age of 50 reported similar levels of sexual activity and function as those who hadn’t had the disease, according to a study we funded. That said, of those surveyed, people who had survived cancer reported higher levels of sexual dissatisfaction than those who had not had cancer. Read this blog post from the scientists behind the study to find out more.
  • Scientists in London have found that genetic differences between cells from the oesophagus could help predict the likelihood that a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus will turn into cancer. The Mail Online has more info, but it’s still too early to call this a ‘simple test’.
  • US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton offered her support for Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer ‘moonshot’ initiative. STAT News has the details.
  • Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London found that in breast cancer, certain levels of activity of two particular genes are linked with lower survival. These genes may control the stickiness of cells and thus affect how cancer spreads, but more work is needed to unpick this. The Express and WebMD have the details.

And finally…

  • Plagues of locusts weren’t the only things that the Ancient Egyptians had to worry about. Mummies from this era show that people also suffered from cancer in ancient times, presenting researchers with a rather unique opportunity to study cancer in populations of times gone by. But how does the mummification process affect tumours? One scientist in Canada is trying to find out – using mice. Already she’s shown that the ancient practice can change the way tumours look when scanned, which could be helpful for future investigations on people. Check out ScienceMag’s piece for more info.

Image credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr CC BY 2.0