Tuesday 21 November 2017

Revolutionary test can tailor the best therapy for cancer patients

Dr David Fennelly Picture: Damien Eagers
Dr David Fennelly Picture: Damien Eagers
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A revolutionary new test, which takes the "guesswork" out of deciding what treatment will be most effective for a cancer patient, has been launched in Ireland.

Dr David Fennelly, oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, said the Oncofocus test has great potential to improve the survival of cancer patients.

This will include not just the newly diagnosed but also those with advanced cancer who have already undergone chemotherapy and are desperately running out of options.

The genetic test allows doctors to match the individual patient's cancer with targeted therapies, which are modern drugs that work in a different way to conventional chemotherapy by going after the cancer cells' inner workings.

"Without the test you have a response of less than 5pc. If you have this test it increases your response rates by 30pc to 50pc. It is a huge step forward," Dr Fennelly said.

The test was developed by Oncologica UK and Dr Fennelly has recently applied it to a number of his patients.

"I get a report back with a list of mutations and potential targeted therapies," he said.

The technique sees a patient's individual genetic mutation, which is causing the cancer, tested in a laboratory.

The screened tissue sample is the same they provided for a biopsy so they do not have to submit to any blood test. It works for all cancers with solid tumours.

"What we are doing with the test is personalising the treatment.

"It does not matter if it is breast or colon cancer or whatever - what matters is the kind of mutation and how am I going to target it. The drugs are there and this allows us to find the right patients for them."

He is seeking a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris to ask that this test, which is now available through Oncologica Ireland, be free to public patients.

Health insurance companies are also to be presented with the findings in a bid to secure cover for private patients.

It costs around €1,800 but other tests which have less range are more expensive.

The right targeted therapy treatment means a patient also suffers fewer side-effects when compared to chemotherapy drugs.

The evidence-based test is currently carried out at a laboratory in Cambridge in England and it has a turnaround time of around 10 days.

In Ireland an average of 40,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year.

Patients who gain particular benefit are those for whom several rounds of chemotherapy have failed.

"By putting them on targeted treatment you can improve their response and survival," Dr Fennelly said.

He said personalised medicine is the way of the future.

The hope is that one hospital laboratory here can eventually do the work.

More information about the test is available here

Irish Independent

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