Public Release: 

Blood test could match cancer patients to best treatments

Cancer Research UK

CANCER RESEARCH UK-funded scientists have developed a blood test that could help pair cancer patients with the most suitable therapy for their disease and then track the tumour's progress to see if the treatment is working, according to research published today (Thursday) in Clinical Cancer Research*.

Using the blood test throughout a patient's treatment gives a 'running commentary' of what is happening to tumours - giving scientists the lowdown on how well the treatment is working, how the cancer is changing and whether it is becoming resistant to treatment. It is the first time a blood test has been used in this way during clinical trials of targeted drugs, proving that the technique can monitor cancer simply and quickly.

The scientists and clinicians, from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden in London, looked at almost 160 blood samples from 39 cancer patients with different types of late-stage cancer.

The test filters out tumour DNA from a patient's blood to be analysed for genetic faults. Based on the results, researchers can match the faults to targeted cancer treatments which then home in on cancer cells carrying these mistakes.

Tumour samples, known as biopsies, are usually only taken at the beginning of treatment, meaning that doctors may be using out-of-date information about how the genetic makeup of a patient's disease is changing in response to treatment. But this approach could provide real-time updates, as well as helping doctors identify patients who are suitable for clinical trials of new drugs.

Study leader Professor Johann de Bono, from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden, said: "Tumours and the gene faults that drive them are unique and constantly evolving. It's crucial that we understand these changes so doctors can choose the best treatments for each patient.

"We need to do more research, but this approach could have a huge impact on how we make treatment decisions, also potentially making diagnosis and treatment quicker, cheaper and less invasive."

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "Blood tests like these are the future of cancer treatment and this study proves that they can work in practice - helping us to diagnose, analyse and monitor tumours more easily.

"Thanks to research like this we're developing new ways to shake the genetic foundations that underpin cancer and save more lives."

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For media enquiries contact Emily Head in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 6189 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

* Frenel et al. Serial Next Generation Sequencing of Circulating Cell Free DNA Evaluating Tumour Clone Response To Molecularly Targeted Drug Administration. Clinical Cancer Research. DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-15-0584.

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world's most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients' lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and 'bench-to-bedside' approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR's mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit http://www.icr.ac.uk

About The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world's first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 50,000 NHS and private patients every year. It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies.

The NIHR The Royal Marsden Biomedical Research Centre is the only National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre for Cancer. First awarded the status in 2006, it was re-awarded in 2011. A total of £62 million is being provided over five years, to support pioneering research work at The Royal Marsden and our academic partner, the ICR, and is shared out over eight different cancer themes.

The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London boroughs of Sutton and Merton and in June 2010, along with the ICR, the Trust launched a new academic partnership with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex.

Since 2004, the hospital's charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, has helped raise over £100 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units.

Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

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