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Blood test could ‘match cancer patients to best drug’

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Researchers have developed a blood test that they say could help pair cancer patients with the most suitable therapy for their disease and then track progress to see if the intervention is working.

Using the blood test throughout a treatment cycle gives a “running commentary” on what is happening to tumours, said the researchers – showing clinicians how well the treatment is working, how the cancer is changing and whether it is becoming resistant to treatment.

It is the first time a blood test has been used in this way during trials of targeted drugs, proving that the technique can monitor cancer simply and quickly, according to the study authors in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

“This approach could have a huge impact on how we make treatment decisions”

Johann de Bono

Their study looked specifically at whether next-generation sequencing of circulating cell-free DNA could be used for patient selection and as a tumour clone response biomarker in patients with advanced cancers participating in early-phase clinical trials of targeted drugs.

The new test filters out tumour DNA from a patient’s blood to be analysed for genetic faults. Based on the results, researchers can match the faults to targeted cancer treatments that then home in on cancer cells carrying these mistakes.

The research, by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, both in London, involved almost 160 blood samples from 39 cancer patients with different types of late-stage cancer.

The researchers noted that biopsies are usually only taken at the start of treatment, meaning clinicians may be using out-of-date information about how the cancer is changing in response to treatment.

“Blood tests like these are the future of cancer treatment and this study proves that they can work in practice”

Kat Arney

They said their new approach could provide “real-time updates”, as well as helping clinicians to identify patients who are suitable for trials of new drugs.

Study leader Professor Johann de Bono said: “Tumours and the gene faults that drive them are unique and constantly evolving. It’s crucial that we understand these changes.

“This approach could have a huge impact on how we make treatment decisions, also potentially making diagnosis and treatment quicker, cheaper and less invasive,” he said.

Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “Blood tests like these are the future of cancer treatment and this study proves that they can work in practice – helping us to diagnose, analyse and monitor tumours more easily.”

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