Blood test for detecting cancers five years before visible in
2 June 2010
A ground-breaking diagnostic test that can identify biomarkers
in blood for a range of cancers as much as five years earlier than
current diagnostic imaging methods will be launched this month.
The technology, which has been developed by Nottingham University
spin-out company, Oncimmune Ltd, can give the results of a blood
test within one week of sending a blood sample to the company.
The new technique replicates the cancer proteins that trigger the
body’s response to the disease and the company has developed robotic
technology to measure this response. This new technology (immuno-biomarkers)
provides a significant advance in how early a cancer may be detected
and is likely to change the current paradigm of diagnosis and
treatment for most solid cancers such as lung, breast, ovarian,
colon and prostate.
The first test to be launched will be for lung cancer. EarlyCDT-Lung
will be launched nationally in the USA this month followed by a
launch in the UK early next year.
Geoffrey Hamilton-Fairley, Executive Chairman of Oncimmune, said:
“We believe this test, along with the others we will launch in the
next few years, will lead to a better prognosis for a significant
number of cancer sufferers.”
Development of the cancer detection technology
The technology is based on the early work of John Robertson, a
world renowned breast cancer specialist and Professor of Surgery in
The University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Medicine and Health
Sciences, Oncimmune has successfully transferred this science into a
reproducible commercial test.
Initial research results were derived using blood samples from
patients with breast cancer and a group of high risk women attending
for annual mammography — which Professor Robertson had prospectively
collected in Nottingham. All samples were obtained with fully
informed consent as part of a study which had received approval from
the appropriate ethics committee.
In addition to identifying the signal in the blood of a
percentage of women when they developed breast cancer the results
also showed that the signal could be detected in some of the
high-risk patients who had given blood samples for a number of years
during their annual check up and before they were subsequently
diagnosed with cancer.
When these samples were run retrospectively by Professor
Robertson he showed that the prototype assay test could have
detected over half of these cancers up to four years before they
were actually diagnosed. The work on lung cancer followed through a
European Union grant which involved both The University of
Nottingham and Oncimmune in a collaboration with a number of
Professor John Robertson said, “I am very pleased that the
initial exciting research data that we produced in the laboratories
at The University of Nottingham a number of years ago have been
translated by Oncimmune to the first of many tests that will help us
identify cancer early. The support of the University at all levels,
including past and present Vice-Chancellors, Deans of the Faculty of
Medicine and Heads of School along with the University’s Management
Board has been essential.
"Some of the initial research work was supported by charitable
funds and donations from patient groups. In the commercialisation of
the technology there have been a number of individuals who have
continued to believe in and financially support the goal of
developing a blood test for the early detection of cancer without
whom this technology would not have reached this milestone. It has
been a long and at times very hard road in creating a robust
commercial test and those involved have worked with exceptional
diligence and tenacity and have given their unremitting support to
A study involving researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the USA
recorded similar results using blood samples from a study of CT
scans to screen for lung cancer where antibodies were detected up to
five years before the lung cancers were diagnosed. A number of other
academic centres have reported similar results.
Oncimmune Ltd was founded in 2003 to commercialise the technology
developed in the laboratories of Professor Robertson. In 2006 the
company set up a North American operation to validate and scale-up
the test — trialling it on more than eight million assay “wells”
from 80,000 patient samples.
The target population for EarlyCDT-Lung are high-risk individuals
such as long-term smokers and ex-smokers between the ages of 40 and
75. Additionally the test would be appropriate for people who have
been exposed to other risk factors associated with the disease, for
instance, environmental exposures such as radon, asbestos and
extensive exposure to secondary smoke.
The Centre of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer
Under the guidance of Professor Robertson, The University of
Nottingham has become a world leader in the field of autoimmunity in
cancer. Using the technology developed by Oncimmune there is, for
the first time, a reliable platform available for testing the
autoimmune response to cancer and further research will allow
validation of the test in other tumour areas such as lung, colon and
To support this, the University is to establish a Centre of
Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer (CEAC) with Professor
Robertson as the Director of Research. The new centre will foster
collaborative research to: speed up the delivery of an autoantibody
blood test for different types of cancer for clinical use; encourage
other research in the area of autoimmunity in cancer; and continue
the search for support technologies that have the potential to
enhance the medical prognosis following a positive test result.
Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of
Nottingham said: “The establishment of CEAC will provide
state-of-the-art technologies to continue world leading research and
development in the early detection of cancer using autoantibodies.
The new centre will house a multi disciplinary research team working
in partnership with international collaborators and Oncimmune. The
research will provide additional test systems for the early
diagnosis of a wide range of cancers which will have considerable
impact within clinical medicine. The group’s discovery science which
has led to a novel set of biomarkers is providing new insights into
the biology of cancer. Their basic, translational and clinical
research is likely to contribute to a positive paradigm shift in our
understanding of the early phases of cancer cell development as well
as enhancement of the medical management of a wide range of cancer
Initially the test will be offered in the US via primary care
physicians and pulmonologists in the USA for high risk asymptomatic
patients as well as patients who have indeterminate lung nodules.
Oncimmune will bill private insurance companies as well as
government-run Medicare Part B carriers on behalf of the patient.