Cancer Research UK's chief executive Harpal Kumar today spoke of a 'golden era' for cancer research as the UK is poised to lead the world in individualising the practice of medicine by understanding which treatments are best suited to an individual patient's particular genetic type of cancer.
New discoveries are already producing personalised treatments that promise to be more targeted than conventional medicine, he told the annual National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) conference in London.
Cancer Research UK is launching a programme in the UK to show how cancer gene tests can be carried out systematically within the NHS to help clinicians choose the best treatment for their patients and, in turn, influence research.
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "This is an immensely exciting time for cancer research. New genetic tests will improve treatment decisions and will transform the way we treat this disease, ultimately improving survival and sparing thousands of patients from suffering side effects from treatments that will not work for their individual cancer.
"It will mean that rather than just treating cancer patients based on which organ their cancer is in, their treatment will be tailored to the genetic profile of their tumour.
"Cancer Research UK will shortly be starting a two year programme in seven hospitals and three labs. It will collect and test 9,000 tumour samples for breast, bowel, lung, prostate and melanoma and ovarian cancers. This information will not only help us design better tests but will also provide us with information to help us find out/research which tumour type responds best to which treatment."
This investment is part of a unique national partnership including Cancer Research UK, the government and industry. The Department of Health's latest cancer strategy has committed to improve genetic testing, while the Technology Strategy Board has just invested £6m in partnerships between universities and private companies to develop new tests and databases.
"Because we have mapped so many cancer genomes across the world, we now know much more about what causes cancer and what causes cells to grow out of control. This has led to exciting discoveries which are benefitting patients now. These include the drugs imatinib and erlotinib which target precise mutations. By combining routine hospital treatment and research in our Stratified Medicine Programme, we can accelerate this progress, and develop more targeted treatments for patients."
Chris Carrigan, head of the NCIN, said: "Over the next two years we will see a huge growth in the data available about cancer patients and their treatments, especially in the area of genetics. The NCIN has a key role to play to safely link traditional and new data to facilitate whole new areas of analysis, research and understanding."