Liquid biopsy for lung cancer in the NHS spotlight

By Rebecca Burbidge

22 February 2018


Awareness of an innovative technology that can increase access to personalised medicine for lung cancer patients has been raised with a new MedTech innovation briefing from NICE.

Produced in support of the NHS 5-Year Forward View, MedTech innovation briefings aim to accelerate innovation in new treatments and diagnostics. 

The new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence briefing examines the use of 
circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) testing in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and is intended to guide NHS commissioners and staff considering using this form of testing. This cutting-edge test involves taking a simple blood sample and analysing tumour DNA circulating in the bloodstream, which is why it is sometimes dubbed a ‘liquid biopsy’ method. Obtaining a normal lung tissue biopsy sample for testing is slower, and requires an invasive process that is not feasible in all patients. Using ctDNA testing to identify the presence of specific tumour mutations that mean a targeted treatment is suitable can therefore allow more patients access to precision medicine.

PHG Foundation’s Dr Laura Blackburn, lead author of Developing effective ctDNA testing services in lung cancer, a recent report referenced in the MedTech briefing, commented:

 “This MedTech innovation briefing on ctDNA testing in NSCLC is a positive step in terms of building awareness of an innovative technology and also provides valuable advice to the health system about how this technology works and how it can be used to benefit patients. While there is still much to learn about which technology is the 'gold-standard' test, this area is fast moving and we should start getting answers to some of these questions soon. The health system should be ready to respond to this information when it is ready and provide guidance on how ctDNA testing should be used, to help ensure that patients do not miss out.” 

The PHG Foundation report called for increased awareness of validated ctDNA testing for lung cancer, and urged health commissioners to concentrate on strengthening existing services and to improve provision of this technology. It also called on clinicians with expertise in ctDNA testing to take the lead as clinical champions to raise awareness of the best uses of liquid biopsy for cancer patients within the health system. Read the report and recommendations here.

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