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Cambridgeshire boost for pioneering project to improve genetic testing for cancer patients

last modified Dec 13, 2013 11:26 AM

5 December 2011

Professor Peter Collins involved in initiative to establish genetic testing for cancer patients in the UK.

Professor Peter Collins, Department of Pathology and a lead researcher at the Cambridge Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre Network (ECMC) based at the University of Cambridge, is involved in an exciting initiative to establish a world-class NHS genetic testing service for cancer patients in the UK. Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme means that as and when new targeted treatments become available, doctors will have access to the tests they need to help them decide which drugs are best for their patients.

Medical staff from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), and six of the charity’s other ECMCs, will ask up to 9,000 patients to participate in the first phase of the programme.

Patients suffering from breast, bowel, lung, prostate, ovary and melanoma skin cancer will be asked to give consent for a small sample of their tumour. This will be sent to one of three leading NHS genetic testing labs where DNA will be extracted and analysed.

As Peter explained “this will give Cambridgeshire people the chance to play a key part in making targeted treatments available for cancer patients across the UK. We are extremely grateful to all these patients who, by contributing to this research, are allowing us to take great strides towards beating cancer.” Patients based at Addenbrooke's are among the first taking part in a pioneering initiative to demonstrate how genetic tests could be used within the NHS to help match cancer patients to the most appropriate treatment.

Cancer Research UK, Astra Zeneca and Pfizer are funding the £5.5 million programme. The charity’s share is being funded through its Catalyst Club - a pioneering venture to raise £10 million to propel forward the use of personalised cancer treatment, including Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme.

Patients will be asked to give consent for a small sample of their tumour to be sent to one of three leading NHS genetic testing labs – based at the Institute for Cancer Research in London, Cardiff All Wales Regional Genetics Centre and the West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory in Birmingham – where DNA will be extracted and analysed for a range of molecular faults linked to cancer.

This information will be stored alongside other relevant clinical information to allow researchers to compare the success of different treatments in relation to specific faults within cancer cells.

So although the programme will not alter patients’ treatment at this stage, it’s hoped it could help scientists design better targeted treatments in the future.

The initiative is closely aligned with the government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB)’s £6 million investment in the development of tests for analysing a tumour’s genetic profile and secure software that can link this information to relevant clinical information.

About the ECMC Network

Cancer Research UK and the Departments of Health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland launched a network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) across the UK in April 2007, with a second £35 million investment of in 2011 to fund the centres for a further five years. Each ECMC brings together lab-based experts in cancer biology with cancer doctors to speed up the flow of ideas from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside (translational research). Find out more at www.ecmcnetwork.org.uk

About Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme see: http://science.cancerresearchuk.org/research/research-strategy/our-progress/stratified-medicine-programme/

About Professor Collins’ research work in the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge see: http://www.path.cam.ac.uk/research/investigators/collins-ichimura/research.html