Personalised treatments to be trialed for lung cancer patients

Posted on 17 Apr 2014 by Tim Brown
Dot-like staining along the nuclear membrane is a characteristic feature of this immunostain in small cell lung carcinoma - photo courtesy of Yale Rosen.
Dot-like staining along the nuclear membrane is a characteristic feature of small cell lung carcinoma - photo courtesy of Yale Rosen.

Cancer Research UK is partnering with major pharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, to conduct a clinical trial to help develop personalised medical treatments for patients with advanced lung cancer.

The ‘National Lung Matrix’ trial – scheduled to open later this year at centres across the UK – will give researchers unprecedented access to libraries of drugs developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, allowing several to be tested at the same time, within one trial.

Researchers will use the genetics of each lung tumour to identify small groups of patients who, because of the specific genetic changes causing their cancer, are more likely to benefit from a certain drug.

They will then look for signs of improvement, such as increased survival, tumour shrinkage or an alleviation of symptoms. Medicines that show promise in the small groups of patients may be fast-tracked into larger trials involving more patients with the same genetic changes. And new medicines can be added to the existing trial as new experimental treatments filter through from the lab.

Over the course of the trial, up to fourteen medicines could be included; up to 12 from AstraZeneca and its biologics research arm MedImmune, and two from Pfizer. These medicines target very specific and often rare mutations, meaning they could offer hope for patients who would otherwise have very limited treatment options.

Cancer Research UK, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are jointly funding the programme, with support from the NHS. In total this represents about £25 million worth of research.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This is a very important step forward in the fight against cancer. This partnership is exciting because we’re trying to achieve something that none of us could manage alone – targeting treatments towards the patients who we know are the most likely to benefit. It’s also a programme that can uniquely be carried out in the UK, because of our National Health Service and the network of Centres across the country supported by Cancer Research UK.

“We know that every patient’s cancer is unique, so we’re now moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead striving for more personalised treatment. Critically, we are shifting the emphasis from designing a trial around a specific drug, to designing it around selecting from a range of drugs for a specific patient. This trial will be for lung cancer patients but we hope that in the future stratified medicine will lead to dramatic improvements for all cancer patients, with more treatment options and a better chance of beating the disease.”