NHS to pilot potentially revolutionary blood test

NHS England has announced that the health service is set to pilot potentially revolutionary blood test that detects more than 50 cancers.

Chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the the Galleri blood test, developed by GRAIL, can detect early stage cancers through a simple blood test, and will be piloted with 165,000 patients in a world-first deal struck by NHS England.

Research on patients with signs of cancer has already found that the test, which checks for molecular changes, can identify many types that are difficult to diagnose early, such as head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers. If the NHS programme shows the test also works as expected for people without symptoms it will be rolled out to become routinely available.

In England, around half of cancers are currently diagnosed at stage one or two but the NHS Long Term Plan is aiming to increase that to three quarters by 2028.

Stevens said: “While the good news is that cancer survival is now at a record high, over a thousand people every day are newly diagnosed with cancer. Early detection – particularly for hard-to-treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer – has the potential to save many lives. This promising blood test could therefore be a game-changer in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment. This trial again confirms that the NHS is at the forefront of cutting edge treatments and technology.”

The GRAIL pilot, which is due to start in mid-2021, will involve 165,000 people. That will include 140,000 participants aged 50 to 79 who have no symptoms but will have annual blood tests for three years. Results of these studies would be expected by 2023, and if outcomes are positive, then they would be expanded to involve around one million participants across 2024 and 2025.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are building a world leading diagnostics industry in the UK – not just for coronavirus but for other diseases too. This exciting and ground-breaking new blood test from GRAIL will give us another tool to give more people the very best chance of survival, demonstrating how the UK continues to lead the way in using the latest innovative treatments to help patients. Many of us know a loved one who has battled against cancer and have seen first-hand the impact of this deadly disease.”