Cancer patients may soon have a new tool to help determine if certain treatments will be effective in their care. British scientists have developed a new genetic test that experts say is one of the most promising applications of personalized medicine, where a patient’s care is designed around his or her particular biological makeup.
The new test uses the latest DNA sequencing techniques to detect mutations in 46 genes known to drive cancer growth in patients with solid tumors — and, in turn, may potentially determine which treatment a patient should receive.
It has been launched by the U.K. National Health Service in a partnership with scientists at the University of Oxford and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. It will be run by the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and initially include all cancer patients in the Thames Valley area. But the scientists hope to expand the program nationally by year’s end.
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The researchers who developed the test said it represents a leap forward in introducing next-generation DNA sequencing technology that heralds the dawn of a new age in medicine.
“We are the first to introduce a multi-gene diagnostic test for tumor profiling on the NHS using the latest DNA sequencing technology,” said Jenny Taylor, M.D., of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University and program director for Genomic Medicine at the BRC.
“It's a significant step change in the way we do things. This new 46-gene test moves us away from conventional methods for sequencing of single genes, and marks a huge step towards more comprehensive genome sequencing in both infrastructure and in handling the data produced.”
Researchers said the new test, which costs several hundred dollars to administer, could save significantly more in drug costs by getting patients on to the right treatments, reducing harm from side effects as well as the time lost before identifying at an effective treatment.
Cancer often develops as a result of changes in the cell's DNA and, increasingly, cancer drugs depend on knowing whether a mutation in a single gene is present in a patient's cancer cells.
For example, a lung cancer patient may have a biopsy taken to check for changes in the EGFR gene. If there is a defect, the patient may be treated with a drug that interacts with EGFR. If there is no mutation, such drugs won't work and the patient would get a different drug that would be more effective.
Having a diagnostic test that can screen for defects in multiple genes at once will be important for access to all the new cancer drugs that are coming along, researchers said.
“We wanted a test that would use the latest DNA sequencing techniques to detect a wide range of mutations in a wide range of genes,” said Dr. Taylor. “A test that would be able to cover more cancers and more treatments, all for a similar cost to conventional methods.”
Studies of the new test found that it detected all genetic mutations in 80 cancer patients treated at the hospital.
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