Researchers from the University of Manchester’s CRUK Manchester Institute are conducting a clinical study, dubbed TARGET, to evaluate the use of a blood test in matching cancer patients to appropriate clinical trials.

The feasibility study showed that the blood test, which analyses patient samples for genetic faults, can be performed and evaluated within the timeframe required by clinicians to choose a matched, targeted therapy. The test is intended for patients who have exhausted their existing therapeutic options.

Existing trial recruitment methods are based on a patient’s cancer type or genetic information collected through an invasive tumour biopsy. Due to the volatile nature of cancers, this data can quickly become outdated as a patients’ tumours mutate and their trial recruitment profile ceases to match their current condition.

The research team found that a blood sample could provide up-to-date genetic data on cancer.

“By understanding the genetic faults underpinning a patient’s cancer from a blood test, hope is raised of matching more patients to a specific targeted clinical trial treatment.”

TARGET study lead clinician Dr Matthew Krebs said: “Historically, patients who have exhausted other options but are still reasonably well might access a clinical trial based on their cancer type, but without that new therapy being targeted to their tumour’s particular genetic profile.

“Now, that paradigm is shifting toward personalised medicine. By understanding the genetic faults underpinning a patient’s cancer from a blood test, as demonstrated in this study, this raises the hope of matching more patients to a specific targeted clinical trial treatment with better chance of benefit.”

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During the first of the two-part study, the team collected, processed and analysed blood samples from 100 patients. Out of the total patients, 11 were matched and enrolled in an available clinical trial.

Currently, the researchers are conducting the second part of the study to assess the blood test’s frequency of matching patients to early phase trials and also the affect of this approach on overall survival.

The TARGET study is funded by Cancer Research UK, The Christie Charity, AstraZeneca and the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Furthermore, the team is working to make the blood test more sensitive and plan to add new elements to it to gain better insights into a patient’s disease.