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UK cancer charity launches project to develop personalised medicines

28 November 2011
Appeared in BioNews 635

An initiative has been launched to collect genetic data from 9,000 NHS cancer patients in the hope of developing new, personalised treatments.

The Stratified Medicine Programme, launched by Cancer Research UK, aims to set up a routine genetic testing service for cancer patients. The results of these tests could be used to help choose the most appropriate treatment for each patient. The data will also be incorporated into a central database which could help researchers to develop new therapies that target specific genes or mutations associated with the development of cancer.

Mr James Peach, director of the programme at Cancer Research UK said, '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'.

In its initial stages, the project will look for genetic mutations in breast, bowel, lung, prostate as well as ovarian cancers and melanoma.

Patients who choose to participate will have a small sample of their tumour tested. The test results will be linked to their medical records although, for now, they will not influence their treatments. The genetic data will also be anonymised and sent to a central database which will provide researchers with a source of information for developing new treatments.

At present, the NHS only carries out genetic tests on some patients looking for single mutations in specific cancers. For example, the drug Herceptin is designed to treat breast cancer with high levels of the Her2 protein, something that can be assessed by genetic testing. This new programme aims to introduce a centralised system across the UK, where genetic testing is carried out more routinely and on multiple genetic defects.

The programme is a £5.5 million collaboration between Cancer Research UK and drug companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer. An additional £6 million investment will come from the UK Government's Technology Strategy Board.

'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', said Peach. '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'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Cancer DNA database could revolutionise treatment
Telegraph |  21 November 2011
Cancer gene study recruits first patients
The Times |  21 November 2011
Cancer Research UK begins DNA matching research
BBC |  21 November 2011
Charity launches major cancer genetics project
NHS Choices Behind the Headlines |  21 November 2011
Our Stratified Medicine Programme – what is it and how will it work?
Cancer Research UK |  21 November 2011
Patients to be matched to treatment
Press Association |  21 November 2011
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