The NHS is trialling an innovative new blood test that may be able to detect more than 50 types of cancer.

The Galleri blood test, developed by GRAIL, will be piloted with 165,000 patients in a 'world-first deal' struck by NHS England.

Prior research on patients with signs of cancer has already found that the test, which checks for molecular changes, can pick up many types that are traditionally difficult to diagnose early, such as head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers.

If the NHS programme shows the test also works as expected for people without symptoms it will be rolled out to become routinely available, NHS England said, noting that it could help meet the NHS Long Term Plan goal of boosting the proportion of cancers caught early, which can be the key to reducing cancer mortality.

In England, around half of cancers are currently diagnosed at stage one or two but the NHS Long Term Plan is aiming to increase that to three quarters by 2028.

“Early detection – particularly for hard-to-treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer – has the potential to save many lives. This promising blood test could therefore be a game-changer in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment,” said NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

The GRAIL pilot, which is due to start in mid-2021, will involve 165,000 people: 140,000 of which will be participants aged 50 to 79 who have no symptoms and 25,000 of which will be people who are experiencing possible cancer symptoms.

Results of these studies are expected by 2023, and, if outcomes are positive, then they would be expanded to involve around one million participants across 2024 and 2025.

“This exciting and ground-breaking new blood test from GRAIL will give us another tool to give more people the very best chance of survival, demonstrating how the UK continues to lead the way in using the latest innovative treatments to help patients,” said health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock.

Sir Harpal Kumar, president of GRAIL Europe, added: “Galleri, a simple blood test that’s capable of detecting more than 50 cancers, is a ground-breaking and potentially life-saving advance that could have a tremendous human and economic benefit.

“Grail is thrilled to partner with the NHS and UK government to support the NHS Long Term Plan for earlier cancer diagnosis, and we are eager to bring our technology to patients in the UK as quickly as we can. I’m delighted we have the opportunity to work together to see if we can save many thousands more lives from cancer in the UK every year.”

Lord David Prior, chair of NHS England said: “Every year nearly 200,000 people in the UK die from cancer. Many of these people are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective. This collaboration between the NHS and GRAIL offers the chance for a wide range of cancers to be diagnosed much earlier and could fundamentally change the outlook for people with cancer.”