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8th August 2022
The NHS should offer all cancer patients genetic profiling of their cancers at diagnosis and during treatment to shape care and track how the disease evolves, a consensus group of leading experts has concluded.
Group members said action was needed to ensure use of cancer treatments was routinely guided by information about a patient’s individual cancer.
They called for barriers preventing patients from gaining access to ‘biomarker’ tests to be removed – so genetic information and other tests could routinely be used to select the most suitable precision medicine for each patient.
The consensus group was convened by The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and included nine leading institutions, charities, stakeholder groups and life-science companies, including Cancer Research UK, AbbVie, the Association of British HealthTech Industries, AstraZeneca, Bioclavis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Leukaemia UK and Precision Life and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
Biomarker tests look for genetic, protein or imaging ‘markers’ to identify which patients are most likely to respond to treatment.
It is crucial for clinicians to be able to assess biomarkers so they can select patients with particular weaknesses in their cancers and match treatment accordingly. But the consensus group warned that testing is not always done because regulatory processes and resources have not kept pace with the science.
The statements are calling for a series of changes in the way biomarker tests are developed, made available and routinely used in the UK:
Regulatory barriers to biomarker testing and development have a direct impact on patients – potentially denying them more personalised treatment.
Biomarker testing and development is expensive – currently, the costs of developing biomarker tests often outweigh the financial benefits of doing so, discouraging industry and academia from investing in biomarker research.
But targeting therapies to those who are most likely to respond would be more cost-effective for the NHS. And clinical trials that use biomarkers to select patients are much more likely to succeed and result in marketing approval.
The ICR and the rest of the consensus group members hope that the calls to action in the new 13-point set of consensus statements will help speed up development of biomarker tests and widen access to them – so that the best treatments can reach the right patients as quickly as possible.
Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “We believe every cancer patient should have the opportunity for their cancer to be molecularly profiled to assess biomarkers that can give vital clues about how their disease should best be treated. Biomarker tests can direct treatment precisely to the patients who will most benefit, which can both improve the lives of patients and increase the cost-effectiveness of treatment for the NHS.
“It’s essential that the regulations that govern clinical trials and the approval of new tests and treatments keep pace with the rapidly moving science. At the moment, it can be hard to get new biomarker tests developed, approved and made available for patients. That can in turn act as a disincentive for companies and academics to develop new biomarkers to guide treatment in the future.”