Trial to match cancer treatment to patients' genes
17th April 2014 – Some patients with advanced lung cancer are set to be included in a trial in which tailor-made treatment will be matched to the specific genetic profile of their disease.
Personalised treatments could later be extended to cover those with other types of cancer.
The pioneering technique has been made possible by a partnership between Cancer Research UK and the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer and the NHS which will give access to 14 medications which target very rare very specific and often rare genetic mutations. This will allow several drugs to be tested at the same time, within a single trial.
It is thought that this could offer new hope for patients who otherwise would have very limited treatment options.
In a statement, Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, says: "This is a very important step forward in the fight against cancer. This partnership is exciting because we’re trying to achieve something that none of us could manage alone – targeting treatments towards the patients who we know are the most likely to benefit.
"It’s also a programme that can uniquely be carried out in the UK, because of our National Health Service and the network of Centres across the country supported by Cancer Research UK."
Researchers will examine the genetics of each lung tumour to select a small group of patients who are more likely to benefit from a certain drug.
They will then look for signs of improvement, such as increased survival, tumour shrinkage or an alleviation of symptoms.
Medicines that show promise in the small groups of patients may be fast-tracked into larger trials involving more patients with the same genetic changes. Also, new medicines can be added to the existing trial as new experimental treatments filter through from the lab.
The trial will be led by chief investigator Professor Gary Middleton based at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham. Patients will be recruited at hospitals across the UK, through Cancer Research UK’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) network.
'A tremendous opportunity'
In a statement, Professor Middleton says: "This is one of the largest ever personalised medicine trials in any cancer, one which attempts to match the right treatment to the right patient based on an in-depth understanding of what makes their own cancer cells grow and survive.
"For our patients, it’s a tremendous opportunity to access a wide-range of therapies tailored specifically to their particular type of lung cancer. For people caring for lung cancer patients in the UK, it’s exciting to be able to offer these treatments to patients when they’re still at a very early stage of clinical development."
Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK every year, with around 35,000 deaths from the disease.
Pushing the boundaries
Menelas Pangalos, executive vice president, Innovative Medicines and Early Development at AstraZeneca says in a statement: "At AstraZeneca we believe that targeted therapies which address the underlying mechanisms of disease are the future of personalised healthcare.
"It’s an approach that will allow us to push the boundaries of science and, not only to bring the right treatment to the right patient, but also to uncover new treatments for those who currently have limited options."
In a statement, Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, says: "The exciting progress we’ve made in understanding how cancers develop gives us hope that specifically targeting faults within patients’ tumours could revolutionise medicine in the next decade."