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UK personalised cancer treatment initiative begins patient recruitment

Stratified Medicine Programme has pharma industry backing from Pfizer and AstraZeneca

A pioneering UK programme that aims to build national database of tumour genetic information, treatments and outcomes has begun recruiting patients.

Cancer Research UK's Stratified Medicine Programme is being jointly funded by the charity, Pfizer and AstraZeneca and phase one of the £5.5m pilot project will initially look at mutations in early-stage breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, ovary and metastatic melanoma tumour types.

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.”

The first stage of the programme aims to collect samples from 9,000 patients treated at seven Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) around Britain across a two-year period (until July 2013).

The ultimate aim of the three-stage project is to research the case for large-scale, quality-assured molecular diagnostic testing for NHS patients across the major solid tumour types.

Cancer patients undergoing surgery at the ECMCs will be asked to donate surplus tissue taken during biopsies or resections. The DNA extracted from the samples will then be analysed by three genetic technology hubs (in London, Cardiff and Birmingham), which will examine the DNA for approximately 20 specific genetic mutations, including existing biomarkers linked to treatment. This information will be compared with other data (for instance, concerning treatment regimes) to eventually identify the optimum treatment protocols for specific mutations.

The results of the analysis will be shared with clinicians involved in patient care and will also be stored on the database for potential appropriate future clinical use, meaning that patients may become eligible for inclusion in future clinical trials of targeted therapies.

Currently the NHS does not have a consistent strategy for screening of multiple genetic mutations of tumours, meaning that patients often receive expensive and ultimately ineffective treatments, and suffer potentially serious side effects.

The information in the database is also intended to identify new targets and help in the design of more effective treatments in future, making the UK a better place for research into personalised cancer treatment.

Targeted 'personalised', or stratified, medicine is a key area of oncology research and the UK government's Technology Strategy Board, one of the projects backers, also plans to invest up to £50m into R&D grants for industry-led collaborations on stratified medicine over the next five years.

Personalised medicine offers benefits for industry as well as patients: PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the total US personalised medicine market at $232bn, with annual growth projections of 11% and an anticipated 2015 total of $452bn.

25th November 2011


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