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Owlstone breath test for multiple cancers: how to get involved

By Mike Scialom

Owlstone Medical co-founder and CEO Billy Boyle with the breath tester
Owlstone Medical co-founder and CEO Billy Boyle with the breath tester

Recruitment of 1,500 patients for the clinical launch of the PAN Cancer trial for Early Detection of Cancer in Breath has been announced by Owlstone Medical and Cancer Research UK.

The samples will be collected at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge from patients who have been referred by their GP with specific types of suspected cancer. Prior to other diagnostic tests, breath samples will be collected using Owlstone Medical’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler and processed in Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy laboratory on the Science Park in Cambridge.

The samples, which will then be collected at Addenbrooke's Hospital, will include healthy individuals as trial controls, to analyse volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath. There will be a "regional bias to recruitment" according to a spokesperson for Owlstone. Researchers in the collaborative trial are using Owlstone Medical’s2 Breath Biopsy platform to collect the samples. The study has been initiated in patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers and will expand to prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers in the coming months.

The approach holds great promise as cancer cells display altered metabolism even at the very earliest stage of disease, affecting the pattern of the VOCs exhaled. By identifying the changing pattern of VOCs early, Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology could detect cancer at the earliest stage of disease, when treatments are more effective and more lives can be saved.

Owlstone Medical is working with Cancer Research UK to test 1,500 patients for early signs of cancer using this breath biopsy technology
Owlstone Medical is working with Cancer Research UK to test 1,500 patients for early signs of cancer using this breath biopsy technology

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease. Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier - it's the crucial next step in developing this technology. Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test."

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “There is increasing potential for breath-based tests to aid diagnosis, sitting alongside blood and urine tests in an effort to help doctors detect and treat disease. Owlstone Medical, a global diagnostics company developing a breathalyser for applications in early disease detection and precision medicine, and Cancer Research UK, today announce the clinical launch of

Research is anticipated to run through 2021, and if the technology proves to accurately identify cancer the team hope that breath biopsy could in the future be used routinely in GP practices to determine whether to refer patients for further diagnostic tests.

A spokesman added: "Anticipating completion of the discovery phase of the trials by 2021 but it would be some time following this before a test is ready to be used in the clinic."

If you are interested in being involved in the clinical trial please contact research nurse Rachel de la Rue via email at rd485@medschl.cam.ac.uk.


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