A drugs trial designed to discover how personalised treatment can help in the fight against cancer will begin later this year.
Cancer Research UK has joined forces with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients who have advanced lung cancer, the UK’s biggest cancer killer.
Scientists from Cancer Research UK will use the genetic understanding of each lung tumour to identify small groups of patients who are more likely to benefit from a certain drug because of the specific genetic changes causing their cancer.
Researchers will be given access to up to 14 medicines which target specific and often rare mutations, meaning they could offer hope for those who would otherwise have very limited treatment options.
During the trials, researchers will look for signs of improvement, such as increased survival, tumour shrinkage or an alleviation of symptoms. If the medicines show promise, they could be fast-tracked into larger trials.
The charity has said the partnership marks a new era of research into personalised medicines.
Funding for the trial – from the charity and the two pharmaceutical companies as well as support from the NHS – represents £25 million of research.
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said the trial is an important step forward in the fight against cancer.
Dr Kumar said: “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.
“We know that every patient’s cancer is unique, so we’re now moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead striving for more personalised treatment. Critically, we are shifting the emphasis from designing a trial around a specific drug to designing it around selecting from a range of drugs for a specific patient.”
The trial will be led by chief investigator Professor Gary Middleton in conjunction with the early drug development team at the charity’s clinical trials unit in Birmingham.
It will build on the first phase of the charity’s medicine programme which established a way for NHS hospitals to routinely test tumour samples and use this information to help match cancer patients to the most appropriate treatment.
Prof Middleton said the trial will mean cancer medicine in the UK becomes a key global player in the search for more effective targeted therapies.
He added: “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.”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the news and said he looked forward to the benefits it would bring for cancer patients.
He said: “By investing £11.5 million a day into research and development for the life sciences we have made this country one of the best places in the world to carry out and invest in clinical trials, which has made ground-breaking programmes like this possible.
“Cancer Research UK’s stratified medicine programme will see top scientists work with industry and the NHS to collaborate on innovative, life-saving research, and I look forward to the benefits this will bring for cancer patients and their families.”