Search for new cancer treatments gets £8 million genetic boost

DNA sequencing

Projects to find new treatments for cancer, using whole genome sequencing, have received a £8 million funding boost from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), it was announced today:

  • genetic analysis will target existing treatments more effectively and identify new therapies
  • studies will focus on intractable forms of cancer, including brain cancer and some types of breast cancer
  • funded as part of the £210 million data to early diagnosis and precision medicine programme.

Despite dramatic improvements in the treatment of many cancers there is still much scope for improvement. Some cancers remain hard to treat and patients face a relatively poor prognosis.

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

Clinical trials

The seven clinical trials that have been funded 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.

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.

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

Therapeutic targets

In addition, increasing the knowledge of the genetic changes that take place in cancer may reveal new potential therapeutic targets.

The funding has been delivered through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s £210 million 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.

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.

Funding whole genome sequencing research is just one of the many ways in which UKRI is investing for impact.

Reading DNA to discover cancer weaknesses

Video credit: UKRI
Video transcript and on-screen captions are available by watching on YouTube.

Further information

The DEDPM challenge will ensure the UK remains a global leader in the application of genomics to healthcare. The UK has already developed, through the 100,000 Genomes Project, the largest, highest-quality whole genome database in the world.

It has established the NHS to become the first healthcare system to introduce whole genome sequencing as part of routine care.

Identifying diseases and conditions early is usually the best way to contain them later on.

They can be mitigated, managed and made to have a less serious impact on a patient’s quality of life. Once diagnosed, it is important that a patient gets the right treatment.

Through an improved understanding of a disease and its characteristics, it means that the best treatment for the individual can be selected first time.

Through this challenge the government will fund industry and research to combine data and real-world evidence from our health service and create new products and services that diagnose diseases earlier and more efficiently.

Up to £210 million will be made available to industry and researchers to improve how we use data to support earlier diagnosis and the development of precision medicine.

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