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PCRF-funded early diagnostic test heads towards clinical study

18 September 2017

The potential diagnostic test for early-stage pancreatic cancer, funded by PCRF, has reached a crucial stage. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has provided funding to lead researcher, Dr Tanja Crnogorac-Jurcevic, to determine whether sufficient patient numbers could be recruited to a full clinical study.

Tanja’s research made global headlines in 2015 because it has the potential to be the world’s first test to detect pancreatic cancer when it is still in its earliest stages.

The panel of three biomarkers needs to be formally evaluated in a clinical study for its ability to reliable and accurately detect the early stage disease in urine samples – and this ‘pilot’ phase is a critical step towards this.

A successful clinical study would have global impact - underpinning the commercial development of a much-needed test that could mean many thousands more patients having surgery that could save their lives. 

During this 6-month pilot period, 200 people will be asked for urine samples to test. These will include patients whose GP suspects pancreatic cancer, who are referred for standard investigative procedures such as an endoscopy or CT scan to University College London Hospital (UCLH) or Royal Free Hospital, in collaboration with Professor Steve Pereira and the UCLH Cancer Collaborative.                                                 

People in higher risk groups, such as those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, will also be asked to donate urine. This group includes those being monitored through the EUROPAC registry, who have annual CT scans because of their increased risk of developing the disease. The EUROPAC study is led in the UK at the University of Liverpool, and this part of Tanja’s pilot study is in collaboration with Professor Eithne Costello-Goldring and Dr Bill Greenhalf – both of whom are former PCRF grant holders.

Tanja, who is based at Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London, is currently refining the diagnostic test to make it as accurate and reliable as possible. PCRF has provided further funding to help in this regard.   

Tanja hopes to submit a full grant application to NIHR by the end of 2017. If funded, she would expect to have interim clinical study results within 18-24 months, and final results after a further 24 months.  

PCRF’s CEO, Maggie Blanks, says: “Earlier diagnosis is crucial to beating pancreatic cancer and we’re so proud to have funded this research from the laboratory to reach this stage. I know we’re not quite there yet, but it’s hard not to get excited!”  

Patients diagnosed early enough may be able to have surgery to remove the tumour – currently the only ‘cure’.   For the majority of patients diagnosed too late for surgery, the earlier treatment can start, the longer they might live.

A great deal of effort is directed at symptom awareness around the UK, and this will undoubtedly help – but in most cases, symptoms only start to present when the cancer has already spread to other organs.

Tanja’s urine test has the potential to detect pancreatic cancer in its very early stages – stage 1 or stage 2, before symptoms even start to appear.  This is unprecedented. 

Initially, it would mean a simple, effective way to monitor those people in ‘higher risk’ groups. And as research continues, we’re uncovering more about genetic and lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing the disease.

It would also help to prevent the often-seen delays in diagnosis for those presenting with symptoms allowing patients to start treatment much sooner. New treatments and ways to make existing treatments more effective are being developed all the time – PCRF is at the forefront of many of these. If we can combine an early diagnostic test with these new treatment options, we will finally start to see more people survive this disease. 


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