11:37pm Monday 24 February 2020

Improved cancer genetic testing hope

Prof Malcolm Mason - webCancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme ultimately aims to establish a world-class NHS genetic testing service for cancer patients in the UK. This 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. The Programme will also build a database of information for research into new targeted therapies.

Professor Malcolm Mason


Medical staff from Cancer Research UK’s Cardiff Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), which includes Cardiff and six of the charity’s other ECMCs, will ask up to 9,000 patients to participate in the first phase of the Programme. This covers six different tumour types: breast, bowel, lung, prostate, ovary and melanoma skin cancer.

Patients will be recruited at 20 hospitals around the country, including University Hospital of Wales, Morriston Hospital, Singleton Hospital, Royal Gwent Hospital and Velindre NHS Trust.

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 Molecular Genetics Laboratory 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.

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.

Professor Malcolm Mason, lead researcher at the Cardiff ECMC, based at the School of Medicine, said: “We’re delighted to be involved in this exciting initiative, which will give Welsh 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.”

Jeff Thomas, 55, is one of the first patients taking part in the programme. The father-of-three from Cyncoed in Cardiff was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September and underwent surgery to remove the prostate in November.

Mr Thomas said: “I was keen to take part in the Stratified Medicine Programme to help patients in the future and anything that I can do to help develop new treatments is very worthwhile.

“Being diagnosed with cancer was a terrible shock, and it is incredible to think that my tumour could now be used to develop more targeted drugs in future. Even though I won’t benefit from that research, it’s comforting to think that my experience with cancer will be helping others.”

The other ECMCs involved in the inititive are in Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester and London.

James Peach, director of Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine Programme, said: “In the 10 years since the Human Genome Project was completed we’ve made huge progress in unravelling the genetic basis of cancer and understanding what drives it at a molecular level. We know that prescribing treatment according to the genetic basis of a tumour greatly improves 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.”

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