Britain’s NHS starts tests on cancer ‘Holy Grail’

Britain’s state-run National Health Service yesterday began the world’s biggest trial of Grail Inc’s flagship Galleri blood test that can be used to detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.

The Galleri test looks at the DNA in a patient’s blood to determine if any come from cancer cells.

Earlier diagnosis of cancers leads to dramatically increased survival rates.

The NHS said it wanted to recruit 140,000 volunteers in England to see how well the test worked as part of a randomized control trial.

Half of the participants will have their blood sample screened with the Galleri test right away.

“We need to study the Galleri test carefully to find out whether it can significantly reduce the number of cancers diagnosed at a late stage,” said Peter Sasieni, professor of cancer prevention at King’s College London.

“The test could be a game-changer for early cancer detection. Screening can find cancers earlier when they are more likely to be treated successfully, but not all types of screening work.”

If successful, it will be available to around a million Britons in 2024-25.

Such a test has been considered the “Holy Grail” for early cancer diagnosis.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “This quick and simple blood test could mark the beginning of a revolution in cancer detection and treatment here and around the world.

“By finding cancer before signs and symptoms appear, we have the best chance of treating it and we can give people the best chance of survival.

“The Galleri blood test, if successful, could play a major part in achieving our NHS Long Term Plan ambition to catch three quarters of cancers early, when they are easier to treat.”

The NHS has sent out invites across the country offering the test to 140,000 people aged 50 to 77 with no cancer symptoms. The test is particularly effective at finding cancers that are typically difficult to identify early – such as head and neck, bowel, lung, pancreatic and throat.

The test has been developed by Grail a health-care company focused on early cancer detection.

Company president Harpal Kumar said: “We are eager to bring our technology to people in the UK quickly.

“The Galleri test can not only detect a wide range of cancer types but can also predict where the cancer is in the body with a high degree of accuracy.

“It is particularly strong at detecting deadly cancers and has a low rate of false positives.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid added: “Ensuring fewer people need advanced cancer treatment is vital and is crucial in bringing down the backlog.”

Earlier trial results showed it can detect 68 percent of 12 deadly cancers.

Half the participants will have their blood screened with the Galleri test right away and samples from the rest will be stored and may be tested in the future.

This will allow scientists to compare the stage at which any tumors are detected between the two groups. Anyone with early signs of the disease will be referred to hospital for further tests.

In England 56 percent of cancers are diagnosed at stage one or two. The NHS aims to increase that to three quarters by 2028.

If found early there are a broader range of treatment options available, which can be curative and are often less aggressive.

A patient whose cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage has between five and 10 times the chance of surviving compared with those found at stage four.

Another 6,000 with suspected signs have been offered them to speed up their diagnosis.

Blood samples will be taken at mobile clinics in retail parks and community locations. Laboratory analysis produces a result in a fortnight.

Lung cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer death in the United Kingdom, accounting for around a fifth of all cancer deaths. Lung, bowel, prostate and breast cancers account for 45 percent of the UK’s cancer deaths, the NHS said.

Each test costs 620 (HK$6,670) but the NHS has negotiated an undisclosed discounted price.

Agencies

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