Projects advancing earlier and faster detection of cancer awarded SBRI Healthcare funding awards

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has been awarded two SBRI Healthcare funding awards for late-stage innovation projects that advance the earlier and faster detection of cancer.

Naureen Starling and Angela George headshots
Dr Naureen Starling (left) and Dr Angela George (right)

The funding awards, in partnership with the NHS Cancer Programme and the Accelerated Access Collaborative, support the NHS Long Term Plan for cancer to improve survival rates and diagnose patients earlier.

Two of the eight successful winning innovations will be led by The Royal Marsden and rolled out to other hospitals to benefit other cancer patients.

The funding competition, launched in March 2021, called for late-stage solutions to the challenges of improving the early detection and diagnosis of cancer; and diagnostic efficiency for cancer services.

Liquid Biopsies for Faster Diagnosis of Pancreatic and Biliary Tract Cancers

The SBRI £1.48m funding will be used to help The Royal Marsden roll out liquid biopsies (circulating tumour ctDNA) in the diagnostic pathway of pancreatic and bile duct cancers in six London hospitals (RM Partners Alliance).

The ctDNA liquid biopsies were first used for pancreatic and bile duct cancer patients when The Royal Marsden opened the PREVAIL study during the early part of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The pilot PREVAIL study, funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity thanks to a donation by the Henry Oldfield Trust, showed encouraging results for ctDNA in the diagnostic pathway of pancreatic and bile duct cancers.

Dr Naureen Starling, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Associate Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden, said: “Faster diagnosis is critical to improving outcomes and saving lives for patients with this type of cancer and due to the location deep within the body, it is difficult to diagnose these cancers. ctDNA can detect tiny amounts of cancer in the blood and gives us important information to use alongside patients’ routine diagnostic scans, other blood tests, symptoms and medical history for diagnosis and to appropriately prioritise and personalise cancer treatment.

“Up until we opened PREVAIL we had relied on invasive investigations to diagnose these patients. Yet one in four patients do not get a diagnosis from the first invasive test and need repeated tests. This can be very distressing for patients so we found ctDNA offered us a tool for a faster and safer diagnosis in patients with scans and symptoms highly suspicious for these two cancers.”

The SBRI funding will support other hospitals to add ctDNA technology via Guardant360® to the standard pathway to diagnose pancreatic and bile duct cancer in 650 patients over one year.

Dr Starling said: “By opening this approach to more patients we would like to see if ctDNA can reduce the need for repeated investigations for high-risk patients and if having just the blood test can speed up cancer diagnosis for some patients who would otherwise experience delays.

“It can also identify patients for targeted drug treatments so it has a 2 for 1 benefit. This simple, safe "liquid biopsy" could save the NHS money and time.”

Whole Body MRI for Inherited Cancer Early Diagnosis (SIGNIFIED)

The £730,000 SBRI funding will be used to offer whole body MRI to patients with an inherited gene to help detect cancers early.

50 patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS) from multiple cancer centres will be recruited for an annual whole-body MRI over the next 18 months.

Dr Angela George, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Clinical Director of Genomics at The Royal Marsden, explained these patients have an inherited change (mutation) in a tumour suppressor gene known as TP53 which causes around 90% risk of developing cancers.

She said: “By the time these patients reach 50-years-old they have often developed multiple tumours.”

The standard NHS screen for patients with TP53 gene is an annual MRI breast screen for women and no routine screening for other cancers.

Dr George said: “We will be using the SBRI funding to share The Royal Marsden expertise in interpretating these whole-body MRI scans in two other centres. By the end of the 18-month funding we hope we can show sufficient evidence for the NHS to fund this go-ing forward. If we can prove we can detect cancers earlier we can not only save lives but can potentially prevent the need for aggressive additional treatments and reduce overall cancer burden.”

The Whole-Body MRI project roll out is building on research carried out at The Royal Marsden. For out more about our early diagnosis and detection research here

The Royal Marsden, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR), is designated as the UK’s only National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) dedicated solely to cancer.