Experimental and Precision Cancer Medicine

The Christie Oak Road

Precision medicine has become a primary area of interest within the oncology research field in recent years and is rapidly evolving. The main premise of this approach is to provide targeted treatments according to an individual’s tumour genetic makeup, sparing the patient from receiving treatments that are not likely to help. Precision medicine holds a great promise for cancer patients with the development of more efficient targeted treatments and with less associated toxic effects.

Precision Medicine

Cancer treatments have been revolutionised by genomics. More cancer patients than ever are undergoing genetic testing to find out which changes within their own cells (genetic alterations) are responsible for their cancer growth. These genetic alterations are often responsible for growth and spread of cancer and can be targeted by drugs. Safety and efficacy of these targeted treatments are investigated through the conduct of clinical trials.

Researchers can do genetic testing using tumour biopsies, however they are invasive procedures and cannot always be obtained due to inaccessibility of the tumour. An innovative approach is for patients to undergo a non-invasive blood test (liquid biopsy) so that the tiny amounts of genetic material that cancer cells shed into the blood stream can be profiled. These genetic data will then be used to allocate patients to the targeted treatment that is most suitable for each individual.

Stethoscope on a table

The Manchester Experimental Cancer Medicine Team (ECMT) is based at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and is closely linked to the MCRC, the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the Manchester Biomedical research centre. The ECMT has a large portfolio of early phase clinical trials including “first-in-human” and “first-in-combination” studies across all major solid tumour types. Our ambition is to offer cancer patients from Greater Manchester and beyond more clinical trial options, with the aspiration to provide patients with the opportunity to receive tomorrow’s treatments today.

 

The flagship TARGET study (Tumour chARacterisation to Guide Experimental Targeted therapy) is an academic precision medicine study developed in Manchester and conducted in the ECMT. The TARGET study makes use of Manchester’s expertise in liquid biopsies to collect a simple blood draw from cancer patients to help match them to the right trial and the right treatment. Results from this study are very promising and have been published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine. Researchers from the ECMT have now secured a partnership with a global pharma company to roll out this study nationally, which will significantly increase genomic profiling in the UK.

 

Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) is instrumental in ensuring that patient’s needs are at the forefront of any research. This is why researchers in Manchester are proactively seeking input from patients at early stages of the study design to obtain patient’s perspective which is translated into better outcomes for patients.

Research Ambitions

Researchers in Manchester are currently working to further understand cancer biology so that next generation cancer therapies can be developed. Evidence suggests that where two people may have the same genetic alteration driving their tumour growth, other factors within the cell may mean only one of the patients benefit from a particular drug. Not much information is known about this yet, hence researchers are currently designing state-of-the-art clinical trials platforms where scientists can look closely at the cancer cells of different patients to understand which factors contribute to differences in patient benefit.

Clinical Research Facility sign

Another field of active research in Manchester is drug repurposing. Some patients stand a good chance of benefiting from receiving a particular targeted therapy, however they are unable to access this treatment because it may not be available for the patient’s tumour type or for their particular age bracket.

 

Researchers are now working on developing a clinical trial to enable cancer patients who would otherwise have run out of treatment options to access certain targeted therapies, where they have the specific genetic mutation that particular drug targets. This clinical trial will have a particular focus on teenagers and children with rare tumours who are often underrepresented in research.

The Christie research patient on the BBC

Watch the BBC North West coverage of The Christie covering patient Dave Kearney's treatment journey

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