A new alliance of research institutions across London aims to conduct trials of personalised therapies for lung cancer in a local population of up to 3,000 patients a year.

The London Lung Cancer Alliance is a collaborative effort between Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, King’s College London, Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, The Institute of Cancer Research, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary, University of London.

The Alliance will also link up with five other cities across the UK. All patients within a six-million catchment area in London, along with patients in Newcastle, Southampton, Liverpool, Cardiff and Edinburgh, will be offered gene testing of lung cancers at diagnosis.

As many patients as possible will then be offered one of a panel of targeted therapies matched to their cancer’s molecular profile.

The plan is to cover the entire lung-cancer pathway from the identification and screening of people at risk through to end-stage disease. Researchers at the member institutions will also develop liquid-biopsy blood tests for patients who are too ill for a conventional biopsy, or to monitor whether drugs are working and look for signs of resistance.

Poor survival rates

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK after breast cancer, with 42,000 new cases reported in 2010. Survival rates in the UK lag behind much of Europe, with fewer than 10% of patients still alive five years after diagnosis, the London Lung Cancer Alliance noted.

All of the member organisations have pledged to allocate funding for the infrastructure required by the initiative. Additional funding will be sought from grant-awarding bodies including the UK government.

The Alliance intends to work with pharmaceutical companies to make existing targeted cancer therapies available for testing in lung cancer for the first time.

Some of these drugs are targeted at molecular defects that may be present in only a small proportion of lung cancers, which is why it is so important to include large numbers of patients in the trial programme, the Alliance pointed out.

The initiative will also focus on screening, early detection and prevention of lung cancer in high-risk groups, including patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Radical shake-up

“For far too long the prospects for patients with lung cancer have been bleak,” said Professor Alan Ashworth, chair of the London Lung Cancer Alliance and chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research.

“But now we have an opportunity to change that,” he added, saying the Alliance wanted to “radically shake up the way we treat lung cancer”.  

According to Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, the London Lung Cancer Alliance is “just the kind of collaborative initiative that we’re keen to see National Institute for Health Research infrastructure support”.

It is only by academia, the NHS and industry working together that “we can make real progress against diseases such as lung cancer, where low expectations and poor survival rates have become entrenched”, she commented.