UK diagnostics group Owlstone Medical and Cancer Research UK have kicked off a study aiming to identify breath biomarkers to improve the early detection and diagnosis of multiple cancer types.

The PAN Cancer trial will evaluate the use of Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy platform in developing breath biopsy tests for the early detection of bladder, breast, head and neck, kidney, oesophageal, pancreatic and prostate cancers and brain tumours, with the ultimate aim of speeding up diagnosis for better treatment outcomes.

Cancer killed 8.8 million people worldwide in 2015 alone, and despite considerable progress in the development of new therapies, survival remains persistently low for several cancer types.

“In pancreatic cancer, for example, only 1 percent of patients will survive for 10 years - a figure which has changed very little in the last 40 years,” noted Professor Duncan Jodrell, director of the Cambridge Cancer Trials Centre (CTCC) and Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Cambridge. “New and improved methods for early detection will be crucial to enable us to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer earlier and help more patients survive.”

According to Owlstone increasing rates of early diagnosis through improved cancer screening and treating when interventions are likely to be more effective offers one of the greatest opportunities to improve the number of cancer patients who survive.

“Positive results from the PAN Cancer trial could be game-changing in the fight against cancer: Breath Biopsy tests for cancer detection and diagnosis have the potential to greatly improve survival across a range of cancers,” said Billy Boyle, co-founder and chief executive at Owlstone Medical.

“Our Breath Biopsy platform is already being assessed in large scale clinical trials for the non-invasive, early detection of lung and colon cancer, and it will be exciting to see how its use can be extended to other cancer types. Success in this study would make a real difference to the lives of millions of people, and supports our vision of saving 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs.”

The study trial is being carried out in collaboration with a team of leading cancer researchers at the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Centre, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.