A groundbreaking new test to detect the risk of colon cancer recurring has been developed by a Northern Ireland pharmaceutical company.
The innovative technique, designed by Craigavon-based Almac, could help raise survival rates for the disease.
In what has been called a “significant breakthrough”, the new test will be used to help identify those most at risk of having their cancer return.
Cancer experts have said it could lead to a change in clinical practice as well as saving lives.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with approximately 25,000 patients diagnosed each year. Of these, around one quarter are diagnosed with stage two of the disease.
Patients diagnosed with stage two colon cancer have a relatively good prognosis, with around 80% cured by surgery. But the remaining 20% will see the disease return within five years.
There is currently no test which doctors can use to help identify this ‘at risk’ group, and this is
what the new research has been working towards.
The prognostic test designed by Almac — called CoIDX — is specifically developed to identify high-risk patients who may benefit from additional therapy.
And it could be available as soon as 2013.
Professor Paul Harkin, president and managing director of Almac’s diagnostic business and Professor of Molecular Oncology at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “We have used complex technologies designed in Craigavon to examine tumour samples from around the world to identify a genetic signature which tells us the likelihood of stage two colon cancer recurring.
“This technology will make it much more straightforward for doctors to identify high-risk patients who may benefit from chemotherapy.
“We believe it has the potential to change clinical practice and save the lives of some cancer patients.”
The test was developed using Almac’s proprietary discovery technology and using patient samples from around 14 clinical sites across the world, including Queen’s University.
Almac scientists including Professor Richard Kennedy, Dr Max Bylesjo, Dr Peter Kerr, Dr Timothy Davison and Dr Vitali Proutski conducted the research.
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “We are pleased to have been able to play a role in helping Almac to develop this groundbreaking technology which we hope could save many lives in the future.”
The new test — called CoIDX — analyses a patient’s tumour to look for genetic signs they are in the ‘at risk’ group of 20% of colon cancer patients whose cancer returns within five years. After the tumour is removed during surgery, the Northern Ireland-developed technology will be used to examine a sample of it in the lab. The technology enables scientists to look at the tumour’s Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, a macro-molecule similar to DNA and proteins which contain information about genes. Scientists will look at a patient’s ‘genetic signature’ to see if they are at a high risk of cancer returning. Doctors will then be able to decide if a patient needs additional chemotherapy.