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Oxford team aims to detect lung cancer early via a simple blood test

This article is more than one year old.

A team of Oxford scientists and clinicians has launched a study to detect the early stages of lung cancer using a blood test and machine learning.

The team from Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust, the Oxford Radcliffe Biobank and the local spin-out company Oxford Cancer Analytics (OXcan) will recruit 200 participants to identify cancer biomarkers - molecules such as proteins found in blood that are a sign of lung cancer.

With this information, they will ultimately be able to determine from a simple liquid biopsy which patients have early-stage lung cancer.
Lung cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, accounting for around 21 percent of deaths. Although early diagnosis is essential for improving patient outcomes, more than 75 percent of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, and this situation has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr Daniel Szulc, Chief Product Officer at OXcan, said: "There is currently no minimally invasive, affordable and scalable screening test for lung cancer, limiting survival rates when compared to many other adult cancers. When lung cancer is diagnosed early, a patient's survival rate increases tenfold, which is why we are so eager to develop a test that detects lung cancer early, when patients can undergo surgical intervention with curative intent and ultimately improve survival."

"If successful, this could be easily incorporated into existing NHS programmes, to transform patients' experience of cancer care pathways, reducing anxiety and improving quality of life for those at high risk of cancer, while reducing costs and resulting in substantial financial benefits for the NHS."

The study, which runs until December 2025, uses machine learning software to analyse the data about proteins in liquid biopsies. It is able to identify the tell-tale biomarker signature that indicates someone has lung cancer, including those who are at an early stage of the disease or at risk of recurrence.

Dr Ella Mi, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in Medical Oncology at University of Oxford and OUH, said: "We want to see if it's possible to detect lung cancer earlier than a CT scan. The tumour would have to be a certain size to be picked up by a CT scan, whereas we anticipate we will be able to detect the biomarkers much earlier."

"Proteomics is a rapidly developing area. It offers a great opportunity to discover accurate biomarker signatures for lung cancer - and has the potential to be used in the future for other deadly cancers. This is the first trial of its kind at OUH, and we are excited to see if it can help to achieve the higher rates of early detection we need to save more lives," Dr Mi, Head of Medical and Regulatory Affairs at OXcan, added.

Dr Peter Liu, CEO of OXcan said: "This clinical study is an exciting milestone as we work with world-class partners in the NHS and the University of Oxford and deploy a new generation of liquid biopsy tests that can be synergistic and complementary to existing approaches."

"Oxford Cancer Analytics has a track record for working with international collaborators and developing affordable early cancer detection blood tests to enable treatments with curative intent. We look forward to contributing positively to patient outcomes and quality of life through this study."

Patients interested in participating in the study should contact:

Clinicians who want to learn more about the study should contact:

Pictured: Dr Zhu Liang, Proteomics Scientist, with Dr Junetha Syed Jabarulla, OXcan Chief Scientific Officer