Britain’s NHS Launches Trial for ‘Quick, Simple’ Blood Test to Detect 50 Cancer Types Early
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London: Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) on Monday launched the world’s largest trial of a revolutionary new “quick and simple” blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.
The Galleri™ test, pioneered by healthcare company GRAIL, checks for early signs of cancer in the blood. The NHS-Galleri trial, the first of its kind, aims to recruit 140,000 volunteers in eight areas of England to see how well the test works in the NHS.
“The Galleri test can not only detect a wide range of cancer types but can also predict where the cancer is in the body with a high degree of accuracy,” said Sir Harpal Kumar, the Indian-origin President of GRAIL Europe and one of the UK’s leading cancer researchers.
“The test is particularly strong at detecting deadly cancers and has a very low rate of false positives. We’re delighted to partner with the NHS to support the NHS Long Term Plan for earlier cancer diagnosis, and we are eager to bring our technology to people in the UK as quickly as we can,” he said.
The first people to take part will have blood samples taken at mobile testing clinics in retail parks and other convenient community locations.
“This quick and simple blood test could mark the beginning of a revolution in cancer detection and treatment here and around the world,” said Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive.
“By finding cancer before signs and symptoms even appear, we have the best chance of treating it and we can give people the best possible chance of survival. The Galleri blood test, if successful, could play a major part in achieving our NHS Long Term Plan ambition to catch three quarters of cancers at an early stage, when they are easier to treat,” she said.
The NHS says the new test is a simple blood test that research has shown is particularly effective at finding cancers that are typically difficult to identify early – such as head and neck, bowel, lung, pancreatic, and throat cancers. It works by finding chemical changes in fragments of genetic code – cell-free DNA (cfDNA) – that leak from tumours into the bloodstream.
“It is an absolute priority to speed up the earlier detection of cancer to improve survival, and this trial has the potential to do just that across a range of types of cancer,” said Dame Cally Palmer, NHS National Director for Cancer.
Initial results of the study are expected by 2023 and, if successful, the NHS in England plans to extend the rollout to a further one million people in 2024 and 2025. The NHS is already sending out letters inviting tens of thousands of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities aged between 50 and 77 to take part.
Participants, who must not have had a cancer diagnosis in the last three years, will be asked to give a blood sample at a locally based mobile clinic and they will then be invited back after 12 months, and again at two years, to give further samples. The trial is part of the NHS’s efforts to increase the proportion of cancers detected early by the end of the Long Term Plan.
“Early diagnosis can save lives and this revolutionary new test can detect cancers before symptoms even appear, giving people the best possible chance of beating the disease,” said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
The NHS-Galleri trial is being run by the Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit, in partnership with the NHS and healthcare company GRAIL, which has developed the Galleri test.
It is operating with the support of eight NHS Cancer Alliances across England that span Cheshire and Merseyside, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, the North East, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, Kent and Medway, and South East London.
“The test could be a game-changer for early cancer detection and we are excited to be leading this important research. Cancer screening can find cancers earlier when they are more likely to be treated successfully, but not all types of screening work,” said Prof Peter Sasieni, Director of The Cancer Research UK & King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit and one of the trial’s lead investigators.
Patients whose cancer is found early – known as stage one or two – typically have a broader range of treatment options available to them, which can be curative and are often less aggressive. A patient whose cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage typically has between five and 10 times the chance of surviving compared with those found at “stage four”.
The NHS-Galleri study is a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) – meaning that half the participants will have their blood sample screened with the Galleri test right away and the other half will have their sample stored and may be tested in the future. This will allow scientists to compare the stage at which cancer is detected between the two groups.
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