Cancer Research UK has enrolled 240 patients to date for its Stratified Medicine Programme, an initiative to create a multi-gene testing panel so that treatment with oncology drugs can in future be tailored to specific tumour characteristics.

The £5.5 million programme, which is supported by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, is also designed to build a database of information for research into targeted cancer therapies. It is closely aligned with the Technology Strategy Board’s Stratified Medicine Innovation Platform, in which Cancer Research UK is a partner.

The charity’s own Stratified Medicine Programme plans ultimately to test up to 9,000 tumour samples for genetic markers in its first phase, to demonstrate how molecular diagnosis of NHS patients’ tumours could be scaled up to provide a national service.

Medical staff in seven of Cancer Research UK’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) are recruiting patients for this initial phase, which covers six different tumour types: breast, bowel, lung, prostate, ovarian and melanoma.

The participating ECMCs are in London, Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, collectively spanning more than 20 hospitals across the UK.

Sample route

Patients are asked for consent to take a small sample of their tumour, which is sent to one of three leading National Health Service (NHS) genetic testing laboratories based at the Institute for Cancer Research, the Cardiff All Wales Regional Molecular Genetics Laboratory and the West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory in Birmingham.

Here, DNA is extracted from the tumour sample and analysed for a range of molecular faults linked to cancer.

These insights will be logged alongside other relevant clinical information so that researchers can compare the success of different treatments in relation to specific discrepancies within cancer cells.

Cancer Research UK’s share of the Stratified Medicine Programme is being funded through its Catalyst Club, which aims to raise £10 million through philanthropists to advance the use of personalised medicine in oncology.