Royal Marsden partnership to create state-of-the-art in-house liquid biopsy testing facility

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust will establish a state-of-the-art liquid biopsy testing facility for cancer clinical diagnostics and research following a partnership with Guardant Health, a leading precision oncology company.

Professor Michael Hubank, Director of Clinical Genomics (Research) at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Innovative technology from Guardant Health will speed up the turnaround time for testing liquid biopsies in a clinical diagnostic setting, ensuring the cancers of many patients are detected, diagnosed and analysed for genetic changes faster. Using advanced technology will also significantly increase the hospital’s capacity and scope for research using liquid biopsies.

The service will be housed in The Royal Marsden’s Centre for Molecular Pathology, which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Liquid biopsies are minimally invasive tests that can detect tiny amounts of circulating tumour DNA or ctDNA shed by the cancer into the blood. They can provide information about solid tumours, including their tissue origin and genetic profile, allowing clinicians to personalise treatments more accurately. ctDNA has the potential to transform cancer care for patients from earlier diagnosis to prognosis and better management of treatments, thereby improving patient outcomes.

Clinicians at The Royal Marsden have been using liquid biopsies in a clinical diagnostic setting to detect, diagnose and map the genetic changes of cancers for several years. However, these samples are currently processed in external centres. Bringing diagnostic testing for liquid biopsies onsite will reduce the turnaround time for processing results.

The Royal Marsden has also been using liquid biopsies in clinical trials and has developed its own testing capabilities. However, the Guardant Health partnership will ensure researchers have access to more powerful technology based upon vast data sets and advanced analytics, which will help identify more cancer patients for clinical trials based on targeted treatments.

The service is expected to become operational in 2022 and will be available for clinical research and care, initially for private and clinical trial patients. Wider adoption of liquid biopsy testing across the NHS is under consideration by NHS England.

The facility will help us identify more people with cancer for clinical trials based on targeted treatments, improving outcomes for patients across the UK and beyond.

Professor Michael Hubank

Some Royal Marsden patients, including, Judith Skepper (86, from London) have already benefitted from liquid biopsy testing. Judith was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in March 2020 and was referred to the hospital for specialist treatment. A liquid biopsy detected that Judith has a MET mutation which meant she could be treated with tepotinib, a targeted treatment. She said:

“I did not even notice I had an additional test as to me it was just a straight-forward blood test. Compared with a traditional biopsy, it was much more comfortable and less invasive. My cancer has now progressed, and I am no longer on this targeted treatment. However, I consider myself lucky to have had 18 good months on tepotinib, which allowed me to avoid standard chemotherapy and enjoy spending time with my family of three children and 10 grand-children.”

Professor Michael Hubank, Director of Clinical Genomics (Research) at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Translational Genomics at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“We are delighted to announce this partnership with Guardant Health, establishing a state-of-the-art liquid biopsy testing facility. In a clinical diagnostic setting, it will provide many of our patients with more rapid access to bespoke diagnostic testing, leading to earlier, faster, and more accurate diagnosis, along with targeted treatment selection and monitoring.

“The opening of this service will also allow us to significantly increase our capacity for research using liquid biopsies. Bringing expanded capacity for genomic testing, the facility will help us identify more people with cancer for clinical trials based on targeted treatments, improving outcomes for patients across the UK and beyond.”

Helmy Eltoukhy, Guardant Health Co-CEO, said:

“We are pleased to announce this partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, which will enable clinicians to quickly and accurately detect relevant tumor alterations with a blood test to guide personalised treatment plans and provide researchers with diagnostic tools to support clinical research and innovation.

“This partnership further advances our goal of ensuring all patients with cancer have access to the latest innovations to inform their treatment management to enable the best possible outcomes.”