How Science is Unlocking the Cancer Medicines of the Future

In the UK, more than 350,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2014, and there were 163,444 deaths from cancer. Nonetheless, the outlook for cancer patients is looking better, thanks to major advances in drug development, genomics, and immunotherapy.

One example is CAR-T cell therapies, an immunotherapy program that helps the body fight back against blood cancers. In this procedure, scientists engineer immune cells to target specific types of blood cancer. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, in which around 50 percent of patients will relapse, CAR-Ts may prove lifesaving and increase life expectancy by nearly 70 years.

Breakthrough medicines are helpful, but it’s crucial to detect cancer as early as possible. Typically, diagnoses were made through invasive biopsies, but new “liquid biopsies” are much less invasive and allows researchers to analyze a tumor’s DNA.

“There is lots of research going now into how liquid biopsies could lead to earlier diagnosis of cancer—for example, via the Illumina GRAIL program, but this will take a few years to become a reality,” said Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician.

As new diagnostic and treatment tools become available, it will be important for the NHS to make those services available to UK citizens. This will ultimately result in earlier diagnosis, more successful treatment, and perhaps quell the fear that the word “cancer” strikes into many hearts.

GRAIL, a McKesson Ventures portfolio company, combines the power of high-intensity sequencing, leading-edge computer science, and population-scale clinical studies to enhance the scientific understanding of cancer biology and to develop a blood test for early-stage cancer detection.

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