Cancer research enters ‘golden era’


The launch of several new trials marks the start of a ‘golden era’ in cancer research, the head of a leading charity has said.

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, says that scientists now know more than ever about the potentially fatal disease as groundbreaking trials to genetically test tumours in newly diagnosed patients are set to begin.

Although he admits there is still a great deal to be learnt, he says scientists’ “knowledge is growing exponentially” and they are learning “vast amounts more as months go by”.

The trials, backed by the DH and the charity, are set to begin in September in seven hospitals across Britain with scientists believing the results may revolutionise cancer treatment in the UK.

The two year project is intended to lead to a comprehensive genetic testing of tumours across the NHS. It aims to establish which existing treatments cancers are susceptible to, which may lead to the development of new effective medicines intended to target the genetic formation of an individual’s tumour.

The Government has recently backed an increase in genetic testing as part of the national cancer plan, which the charity says will lead in a significant change in the way cancers are treated.

“It is not hyperbolic to say that this is the future of treatment,” Mr Kumar said. “This is the future of medicine. This will not just be true in cancer but across medicine more generally.

“People have known for years that we give treatment and it is only going to work for 20% of people and we are now on the cusp of finding out what is going on.”

Genetic testing may discover which drugs work more effectively for certain individuals and decide how effect other types of treatments, such as surgery or radiotherapy, will be.

Mr Kumar says that researchers may find that old or discarded products could work on certain patients and, if scientists can discover which treatments are more effective, it may bring the price of cancer drugs down in the future.

“The problem at the moment is that it takes $1bn to get a drug to market and 15 years or more,” he added. “That is the justification for the pharmaceutical industry charging high prices.

“If on the other hand by the time you get to phase II you know exactly which patients it is going to work on, you only put those patients through and instead of 10% you get an 80% response rate.