Biomarkers to help select the right patient for the most beneficial treatments

Cancer is a disease caused by abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. In order for a normal cell to transform into a cancer cell, the genes that regulate cell growth and differentiation must be altered; resulting in either increased or decreased quantity/activity of the proteins they encode.

Advances in our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer have resulted in the identification of many of the gene, and hence protein, changes that occur in cancer. This has led to the development of new drugs, known as targeted treatments, which specifically target and block these proteins stopping cancers from growing and spreading. However, a targeted treatment will not work on every cancer, only those that have these altered protein(s). Therefore, we need a simple way to test and identify patients who have these changed proteins or genes to ensure that the right patients are selected for the right therapies.

A cancer biomarker refers to a substance or process that is indicative of cancer in the body, which can be used for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, monitoring of recurrence and selecting patients for the most appropriate treatments. It may be a molecule secreted by the tumour or a genetic/protein change. Ideally biomarkers should be measured non-invasively, for example in blood or serum, particularly in lung cancer where tumour biopsies can be difficult.

There is a large unmet need to identify non-invasive biomarkers in lung cancer, which will allow patients to be selected for the most appropriate therapy. Biomarkers are also needed to help identify lung cancer at an early stage in its development (see section on early detection and prevention).

We are currently working on developing new treatments along with biomarkers to help select patients for both the new therapies as well as existing treatments.