A new UK study claims that a new way of accurately measuring the success of experimental cancer drugs has been developed.

Researchers funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council have developed a new imaging technique that can determine the levels of cancer drugs in normal and cancerous tissue. The new technique will use an imaging method called positron emission tomography.

The scientists noted that a “mildly radioactive tracer” is attached to the cancer drug and injected into the patient. A mathematical formula is then used to calculate the levels of the therapy in the patient’s blood and tissue.

Eric Aboagye of Imperial College London and lead author of the study, said that “this new technique will be a significant boost to scientists who work in drug discovery”. He added that being able to accurately measure levels of a drug in different tissues, “and understanding how this changes with different doses and schedules of the drug is crucial.”

Prof Aboagye said that “we hope this will significantly reduce the costs of drug discovery – deciding to stop researching drugs that will be ineffective at an early stage could cut overall costs for drug discovery by up to 7%.” Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at CRUK, added that “being able to see what’s happening inside patients is vitally important in understanding how treatments are currently working and the best ways to improve them”.

She added that the charity has identified imaging research as a priority “and we have recently invested £50 million over the next five years in partnership with other funding bodies to help us achieve our aim of improving the detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer”. Some 40% of new anti-cancer drugs fail at the early stages because they are eliminated too quickly from the body or do not reach the blood.