New consortium to develop more personalised treatment for bowel cancer patients

15 April 2015

A new Stratified Medicine Consortium has been launched with £5 million funding in order to develop better, more personalised treatment for bowel cancer.

Colorectal or bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in the UK, with over 40,000 new cases per year. Various forms of treatment are available, including surgical removal, radiotherapy, chemotherapy (for example with the drug oxaliplatin) and the newer forms of biological therapy, such as cetuximab (Erbitux). Deciding on the best combination of treatments requires doctors to take a whole range of factors into consideration, but it is hoped that including genomic information about the tumour itself could inform and improve these decisions.

The new S-CORT (Stratification in COloRecTal cancer) Consortium is funded with £2.5 million each from Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, and comprises several UK academic centres and major pharmaceutical companies along with the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, national and European cancer organisations, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine.

Genome-based technologies will be used to analyse tumour samples and predict likely responses to treatment in over 2,000 newly-diagnosed bowel cancer patients; this information will be used to select what is thought to be the best therapeutic programme for each patient in the hope that this will improve outcomes – an example of personalised or precision medicine in action, underpinned by genomics.

Professor Mark Lawler, Chair of Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast, one of the S-CORT partners, said:  “This precision medicine approach can maximise the effectiveness of both existing and brand new treatments while helping to minimise side effects, to improve survival and quality of life for our patients…Additionally, our health economic analysis will allow us to measure the benefit we can deliver for the NHS and the UK economy”.

Genomic tumour analysis could be a cost-effective measure if it genuinely improves patient outcomes and potentially reduces the need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy in selected patients, but evidence of this is an important factor in paving the way for the NHS to fund and deliver personalised medicine approaches to bowel cancer.

Looking beyond colorectal cancer, CRUK lead clinician Peter Johnson commented that the programme “will help establish a blueprint for new studies looking to tailor treatment with other cancer types” and builds on earlier work for patients with advanced lung cancer.

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