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10 July, 2017 - 13:55 By Tony Quested

Cancer Research UK runs multi-cancer trial with Owlstone breathalyser

Billy Boyle Owlstone Medical

The most wide-reaching clinical trial to date is being conducted in Cambridge to determine whether a new disease breathalyser invented by Owlstone Medical can detect early signs of a raft of cancers.

The trial will be carried out by researchers at the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Centre, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with Owlstone Medical.

The breath biopsy diagnostic will be tested across multiple cancer types including bladder, breast, head and neck, kidney, oesophageal, pancreatic, prostate cancers and brain tumours. Early detection dramatically increases a cancer patient’s chances of survival.

As part of the trial, patients with a suspected cancer diagnosis who are referred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for assessment through the standard NHS cancer care pathway, will be asked to give a breath sample in addition to routine tests.

The breath samples will be collected in clinic using Owlstone Medical’s CE-marked ReCIVA breath sampler then sent to the world’s first Breath Biopsy clinical laboratory for analysis at Owlstone Medical, in Cambridge.

The trial will compare the breath samples of patients with and without cancer to assess whether breath contains reliable biomarkers that may be used in future to detect cancer earlier.

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, co-lead of the CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme, Professor of Cancer Prevention at the MRC Cancer Unit, and an honorary consultant in gastroenterology and general medicine at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, said: “New tools that can help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier are urgently needed and we are very pleased to collaborate with Owlstone Medical to evaluate Breath Biopsy for use in early detection.

“The pan-cancer trial forms part of our Early Detection Programme, a flagship initiative of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre that aims to devise better means of detecting cancer and diagnosing it in the early stages, which can lead to improved outcomes for cancer patients.”

One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives, but the good news is that more people are surviving the disease today than ever before.

Cancer survival has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress. But for some types, like pancreatic cancer – which is often diagnosed at an advanced stage – there has been little improvement in survival rates.

Professor Duncan Jodrell, director of the Cambridge Cancer Trials Centre (CTCC) and Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Cambridge, commented: “In pancreatic cancer, for example, only one per cent of patients will survive for 10 years – a figure which has changed very little in the last 40 years.

“New and improved methods for early detection will be crucial to enable us to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer earlier and help more patients survive.”

Professor Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing chair of oncology, director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and head of the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge, added: “In the East of England alone, around 33,600 people are diagnosed with cancer every year.

“Some cancers are diagnosed very late when there are few treatment options available. Non-invasive detection of cancer in breath samples could make a real difference to survival.

“As a Cancer Research UK Major Centre, Cambridge is working hard to realise CRUK’s vision of diagnosing more cancers earlier so that we can work closer to the day when all patients are cured of cancer.”

Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy platform is already being assessed in trials for early detection of lung and colon cancer. This latest venture widens the scope of the research.

Billy Boyle (pictured), co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “Positive results from the trial could be game-changing in the fight against cancer.

“Breath Biopsy tests for cancer detection and diagnosis have the potential to greatly improve survival across a range of cancers. Our Breath Biopsy platform is already being assessed in large scale clinical trials for the non-invasive, early detection of lung and colon cancer and it will be exciting to see how its use can be extended to other cancer types.

“Success in this study would make a real difference to the lives of millions of people, and supports our vision of saving 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs.

“We are very proud to have the opportunity to work with these world-leading research teams on this ground-breaking trial, which could have a great impact on improving cancer survival.”

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