Dhivya O’Connor, CEO of Children with Cancer UK:
We welcome the announcement of funding from NHS England for DNA testing for children with cancer, to help select the best treatments. Ensuring young cancer patients have access to new and cutting-edge treatments is at the forefront of Children with Cancer UK’s funding strategy because of the impact it will have on patient outcomes and long-term survival.
In 2017 we made our largest ever single grant, investing £3.74M in a ground-breaking Precision Medicine project, headed up by Professor Louis Chesler and his team at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. We launched our ambition to get Precision Medicine off the ground in the UK at a reception at the House of Commons in March 2017 and since then I personally raised the issues of the cost of DNA sequencing and difficulty of access for children to more personalised treatment, at a meeting with the Health Minister Steve Brine MP. We are hugely encouraged by the Government’s commitment to offer all children with cancer whole genome sequencing to enable more comprehensive and precise diagnosis, and access to more personalised, therefore kinder, treatments.
Precision Medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variations in genes, environment and lifestyle. Precision therapies target specific changes in individual patients’ tumour DNA, allowing for more effective treatments while reducing toxic side effects. This is particularly crucial for children, where the toxic treatments can have a serious impact on the long-term health and welfare of those who survive. Precision Medicine has huge potential to improve cure rates and reduce the burden of toxicity on young cancer patients through better targeted chemotherapy, introducing advances in immunotherapy and using other evolving technologies.
While some clinicians and institutions have been applying this treatment approach to young cancer patients in parts of the USA and Europe with some success, our efforts in the UK have been lagging behind – largely due to lack of development funding in the NHS. That is why charities like ours led the way to fund pioneering work to help put in place the infrastructure that we need for rapid sequencing of tumour DNA and to drive forward the implementation of Precision Medicine for children with cancer in the UK.
This ground-breaking commitment from NHS England to offer all children with cancer whole genome sequencing is a welcome step towards meeting our ambition for Precision Medicine to be adopted nationally in the UK, available for every young cancer patient who would otherwise face less effective, more toxic treatment. We call on NHS England to enable the release of funding to significantly scale up access to routine genetic sequencing at all stages of treatment – particularly at relapse – as soon as possible.
We are pleased to see that in the Long-Term Plan, NHS England has also committed:
- Children and young people in England will be amongst the very first in Europe to benefit from a new generation of CAR-T cancer therapies.
- Children who need proton beam therapy will be able to access the most sophisticated modern precision cancer treatment in the world, here via the NHS, without needing to travel abroad.
- Actively supporting children and young people to take part in clinical trials, so that participation among children remains high, and among teenagers and young adults rises to 50% by 2025. Establishing more effective consent processes for using data and tissue samples in research will contribute to improving cancer survival outcomes