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18 September, 2020 - 20:47 By Tony Quested

UKRI invests millions in trials using whole genome sequencing to beat cancer

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has injected £8 million into seven clinical trials which are using whole genome sequencing to defeat cancer.

The funding has been delivered through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s £210m data to early diagnosis and precision medicine (DEDPM) programme. The challenge aims to combine research data and evidence from the NHS to create new and improved ways of identifying disease and treatment pathways. 

Despite dramatic improvements in the treatment of many cancers there is still scope for improvement, with some cancers remaining hard to treat and patients facing a relatively poor prognosis.

It is hoped that the funding will speed up the adoption of whole genome sequencing – a form of genetic analysis – in the study of cancer. Genetic analysis is a critical tool that allows clinicians to select the most appropriate treatments for each patient. In addition, increasing the knowledge of the genetic changes that take place in cancer may reveal new potential therapeutic targets.

Analysis can also reveal that different cancers share similar underlying genetic changes and that existing therapies may be used to treat different cancers.

Working in partnership with Genomics England, the funding will allow whole genome sequencing to be applied to seven clinical trials involving a range of cancers. The funded trials are:

  • TRACERx Renal CR-UK and AstraZeneca (RAMPART Trial)
  • CR-UK Personalised Breast Cancer Programme, CR-UK and AstraZeneca (PARTNER Trial)
  • CR-UK PATHOS and BMS-funded NICO Trials in Oropharyngeal and Oral cancer
  • Tessa Jowell Brain Matrix Trial Brain Tumour Charity
  • OxPloreD blood cancer, Johnson and Johnson
  • Metastatic Melanoma, RMH Cancer Charity
  • ESCALATE Oesophageal Cancer Study.

UKRI challenge director, Alison Cave said: “Research tells us that one-in-two people in the UK population will get cancer. That stark statistic shows just how important it is for us to seek new treatments. The use of genetic analysis opens new possibilities in our drive to beat cancer. The projects for which we have announced funding today are exciting pointers to future diagnosis and precision treatments.”

Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Scientist at Genomics England said: “The 100,000 Genomes Project, Genomics England has analysed the genomes of over 17,000 cancer participants and this suggests that up to half have revealed mutations of potential clinical significance.

“The DEDPM programme is a major opportunity to expand the application of whole genome sequencing into clinical trials involving cancer where support from the ISCF is likely to deliver significant clinical benefit”.

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