A bioassay (photo: Jan Chlebik/the ICR)
Scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, have been awarded £1.5 million by the charity Children with Cancer UK to advance precision medicine in the UK and improve cancer treatment for children and young adults.
Not generally available on the NHS, the ambition is to get precision medicine off the ground in the UK so it can be adopted nationally, and ultimately be available for every young cancer patient so they can receive treatments that are more targeted to their cancer. This approach should mean more effective and less toxic treatments.
What is precision medicine?
Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention and takes into account individual variations in genes, environment and lifestyle. Precision therapies target specific changes in individual patients’ tumour DNA, allowing for more effective treatments while reducing toxic side-effects.
It has huge potential to improve cure rates and reduce the burden of toxicity on young cancer patients through better targeted chemotherapy, introducing advances in immunotherapy and using other evolving technologies.
While some clinicians and institutions are starting to systematically apply this treatment approach to young cancer patients in parts of the USA and Europe with some success, until now efforts in the UK have been less systematic – largely due to lack of development funding in the NHS.
Implementing a precision medicine programme
To help drive forward the implementation of precision medicine for young cancer patients in the UK, Children with Cancer UK is providing £1.5m to fund the initial phase of a programme for rapid DNA sequencing for every UK child diagnosed with a solid tumour.
The initiative will significantly help move the latest and best medical science into clinical practice. Over time, with feedback from clinical trials and using expert databases, clinicians will be able to personalise treatment plans to maximise potential for cure and minimise adverse long-term toxic side-effects from the treatments.
This work builds on research at the ICR made possible by the parent-led charity Christopher’s Smile. It is being led by Professor Louis Chesler at the ICR on behalf of a large multi-centre consortium.
The support will help fund the start of a national infrastructure for rapid sequencing of tumour DNA from young cancer patients.
More structured genetic testing of children’s tumours
Cliff O’Gorman, Chief Executive of Children with Cancer UK, said: “Our ambition is that all children, teenagers and young adults diagnosed with cancer in the UK have access to Precision Medicine through the NHS within the framework of clinical trials. This ground-breaking funding will help develop the first programme for Precision Medicine for young cancer patients in the UK, already started in parts of the USA and Europe.”
Initiative Leader Professor Chesler said: “Integration of modern technologies to cancer treatment is very important because it maximises the chance of developing a new generation of ‘targeted’ cancer drugs. It is incredibly exciting and their application to children’s cancers could be ground breaking, but only if the drugs are properly applied to patients with very precise knowledge about the unique changes in genes, proteins and cancer cells that occur in each child’s tumour.
“This funding will help us move towards a more comprehensive and structured approach to genetic testing to match children with cancer to specific targeted treatments, which could be an incredibly important step towards increasing survival and reducing the side-effects of treatment.”
This article was adapted from the original press release by Children with Cancer UK.