The Royal Marsden joins forces on world-leading genomics project in fight against cancer

30 December 2014

The Royal Marsden will join together with Imperial College, Chelsea and Westminster and the Royal Brompton hospitals, as a Genomic Medical Centre (GMC), contributing to the successful delivery of the 100,000 Genome Project, a national initiative which aims to sequence the genomes of 100,000 participants, for the first time, to enable new scientific and medical discovery and bring benefit to patients.

The Royal Marsden will lead the cancer element of the partnership, collecting and decoding the genomes from some of the 50,000 cancer patients who are treated at its Chelsea and Sutton sites, together with patients from two Royal Marsden-associated hospitals, Epsom and St Helier and Kingston Hospitals.

The three-year project, which will transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases, is the latest element of our pioneering work in translational cancer research and personalised medicine. Professor David Cunningham, Director of Clinical Research, said: “Identifying the genomic make-up of our patients, as well as their tumour, is crucial for pinpointing whether they are eligible for a targeted therapy.

“Knowledge gained in recent years has provided us with an opportunity to really accelerate our understanding of cancer, particularly in the area of personalised medicine. Together with our colleagues at Imperial College, Royal Brompton, Chelsea and Westminster, Epsom and St Helier’s, and Kingston Hospitals, we can now take this knowledge into this exciting new genomics project, working to make a lasting difference to patients across London, and the UK.”

There are many examples where genomics has already improved treatment for patients based on the findings of genetic research at The Royal Marsden. For example, a particular kind of genetic mutation (BRCA2) can trigger a type of breast cancer as the body produces faulty proteins and, ultimately, tumours. Identifying the BRCA2 gene enables clinicians to draw up targeted treatment plans and potentially increase the chances of remission and survival for the patient.

The BRCA2 gene was discovered 20 years ago by scientists at The Royal Marsden’s academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research. This discovery of BRCA2 and its links to some cancers paved the way for genetic testing and the discovery of treatments for patients with the faulty gene. The BRCA gene is just one example of genetic research that has improved the treatment our patients receive. Genetic research has enabled new and more precise diagnostic tests, and will lead to more effective and targeted treatments to improve outcomes and reduce side effects of cancer therapies.

BRCA is just one gene of many that are altered in cancer. The ambitious 100,000 Genome Project will look at whole human genomes to identify in a single test changes that may be present in many different genes. The project has the potential to transform the future of healthcare. It could improve the prediction and prevention of disease, enable new and more precise diagnostic tests, and allow personalisation of drugs and other treatments to specific genetic variants. It is anticipated that around 75,000 people will be involved, which will include some patients with life threatening and debilitating disease.

Recruitment to the project will begin from 2 February 2015.