Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter
Skip to main content
Donate

Let's beat cancer sooner

A researcher looking at a gene sequence

By looking at a patient’s genes, doctors can now decide on the best cancer treatment

You may have seen in the news today that Cancer Research UK is forming a partnership to change the way cancer treatment is delivered in the UK. This will be a chance for the charity to combine great research and patient care.

In a way, it’s why we’re here: as Professor Sir Paul Nurse remarked when Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund merged to form Cancer Research UK in 2002, “combining forces will give us the impetus to turn the potential of the genetic revolution into the reality of new drugs and treatments”.

Eight years later, we’re making this promise a reality.

Stratified medicine is when doctors treat different groups of patients differently, based on the genetic nature of their disease. This is particularly relevant in cancer, because cancer cells have recognisable genetic changes (or mutations) that cause them to grow out of control and eventually cause harm to the patient. Researchers are identifying exactly which genes can become faulty in cancer – and they make more discoveries almost every month.

Now, they are in the process of linking each mutation – or pattern of mutations – to a treatment that targets it.

Currently, in most cases, doctors diagnose cancer by looking at it, scanning it, taking a sample of it, looking at it under a microscope and finally sending a biopsy off to the lab for a chemical test. This means that they have a good idea of the size of the tumour, its position, what the individual cells looked like, and what chemicals are on the outside of the cells. All this information can help decide how best to treat the patient’s disease.

But now that genetic testing is becoming become much cheaper, down from $2.7bn for the first genome in the year 2000 to £200 for a single mutation test in the NHS now, doctors will soon be able to add genetic analysis into the mix. This will potentially be a game-changer.

The era of genomic medicine

Genetic analysis can give much more information on how likely the tumour is to grow or to react to certain treatments. For example, certain genetic types of prostate cancer grow more quickly, and certain types of lung cancer are more likely to respond well to targeted ‘next generation’ drugs like gefitinib and erlotinib. Importantly, tests could also predict whether certain drugs won’t work – sparing patients potentially unnecessary treatment and making things more cost-effective. With some treatments this is already happening.

Sounds exciting? It is, but it’s not yet routine practice in the UK. This isn’t surprising, as the technology has only recently become affordable, and, importantly, there aren’t yet many treatments where there’s clear evidence that a genetic test will help.

But Cancer Research UK believes that, as new tests and treatments emerge, we can make genetic testing routine practice, and – crucially – link it to great research to make sure we are delivering better treatments all the time, all over the UK.

A partnership to beat cancer

We’ll do this by building a partnership between patients, the research community, the NHS, the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industry, and the government. Patients who might benefit will be asked if they want to be part of the programme, and if so they will get the appropriate genetic tests on their tumours and their results will be kept for research.

This means that, as well as helping the patients, we will be creating valuable research information on which genetic types of cancers are linked to better or worse response to treatments.

Everyone will have a role to play in this partnership.

  • The research community will help define the genes we should be looking for, and link us to the latest advances around the world.
  • The NHS will identify and treat the patients based on the genetic information.
  • The pharmaceutical and diagnostic industry will help fund the testing, and use the research results to develop better tests and better treatments.
  • And the government will support the programme by funding technical innovations in analysis and medicine, as well as ensuring that we are creating a programme that can be used in other disease areas such as heart disease or arthritis.

It will be a strong team, and we’re really pleased by the initial positive reaction to our plans.

We’re also building an excellent team of experts across Cancer Research UK to help us bring this partnership together. Professor Peter Johnson, our chief clinician, is leading our scientific advisory board, which includes leading scientists and clinicians in the field. Dr Louise Jones, the charity’s expert on stratified medicine, is leading the clinical and research work stream, while our expert on informatics Dr Fiona Reddington is working on the data questions, and Dr Fiona Hemsley from our research strategy team is looking into the technologies available for genetic testing.

Over the summer, we’ll be developing more detailed plans, and learning from other examples around the world, so that in September we’ll be able to bring all the partners together to agree on exactly what we’re going to do: how many patients, what cancers, what genes, which hospitals, which testing labs, and how much it will cost will all be under discussion.

If our initial pilots involving a few thousand patients are successful, this could trigger a step-change in how we research cancer testing and treatment in this country. And if everything goes according to plan, we would like to work with the NHS to roll this out across the country, starting in 2012. This is, truly, what we mean when we say “Together, we will beat cancer”.

James

James Peach is Cancer Research UK’s director of stratified medicine

More information:

Share this article

Comments

Kat Arney December 27, 2011

Hi Gladys,
We’re very sorry to hear about your brother and the pain he is in. I’m afraid we can’t answer medical questions on the blog so please give our Cancer Information Nurses a call on freephone 0808 800 4040 between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays), and they will be able to give you some advice.

Best wishes to you and your family,
Kat
Science Information Manager

Kat Arney December 27, 2011

Hi Gladys,
We’re sorry to hear about your brother. I’m afraid we can’t answer medical questions on the blog so please give our Cancer Information Nurses a call on freephone 0808 800 4040 between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays).
Best wishes to you and your family,

Kat
Science Information Manager

Gladys December 26, 2011

My brother has a spinal tumour. This tumour keeps growing and he is in a lot of pain all the time. the tumour is called Schwannoma. My brother had 3 surgeries and Drs. only took part of the tomour because the position. Is there any steroids that he can take to aliviate his pain. He can not sit down and he is lying down on his left side only. Gladys

lisa August 6, 2010

my mother has lung cancer, due to other help problems we have been told there is no treatment being offered,so my sister and i are looking for any treatments that offer any hope giving us a little more time,

Kat Arney June 14, 2010

Hi Brenda,
You may find it useful to speak to our Cancer Information nurses. You can call them on 0808 800 4040 from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. There’s also information about different treatments for BCC on our CancerHelp UK website: http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/skin-cancer/treatment/which-treatment-for-skin-cancer.

Best wishes,
Kat

Kat Arney June 14, 2010

Hi Coco,

Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. You’ll be interested to know that we’ve been funding work to develop training courses to help doctors communicate better with cancer patients, so hopefully things are improving!
There’s more info on our website and elsewhere on the web.

Best wishes,
Kat

Coco June 13, 2010

It sounds like a good development, however I hope that CRUK will also set some money apart to teach consultants how to talk to the patients – being cured of cancer, but distressed as a result of bad communication is not beneficial…

Many thanks!!

Coco

Brenda Davies June 12, 2010

Wavering over type of treatment I should have for lesions on the nose by the bridge – near the eye. BCCs
Can you refer me to website for info

sylvia penn June 12, 2010

My mother died from breast cancer 40 years ago and i long for the day when there will be a cure for all cancer. i will back every form of research and am routing for you.

william l wood June 11, 2010

Many thanks for this. Life gets complicated! At 78 and a widower with bad arthritis,and with recent open heart surgery, I was then found to have both Prostate Cancer (Zoladex treatment)and CLL (not yet needing treatment). I therefore found it most encouraging, especially as I have now also been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes (diet treatment only.Thanks again

keith June 10, 2010

Most interesting and very re-assuring to all-Thank-you

Bridgette ayers June 6, 2010

http://www.researchhealthcare.com/cancer/the-drug-worked-best-in-tumors-were-non-squamous.html
Non-squamous is the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer.ARQ197 is part of a potential new class of cancer drugs designed to block a protein, called C-met, involved in cancer cell growth and survival.ArQule said in March that the drug, in combination with Tarceva, led to a 66 percent improvement in the amount of time patients lived without their cancer worsening, compared with use of Tarceva alone, but the results were not statistically significant.