A Breath of Fresh Air

by Callum Moore

A brief history

Whilst a cure for all cancers seems far away, it isn’t for a lack of trying. Research into this area started in 1902 when the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) was formed by doctors and surgeons who were concerned about the effects and loss of life from cancer.

Early development was slow and breakthroughs in the space did not come until much later when scientists Anthony Epstein, Yvonne Barr, and Burt Achong in 1964 discovered the first human cancer virus called Epstein-Barr (EBV). In the 70s more treatments were being tested and researchers discovered p53 protein which is faulty or inactive in many cancers, this discovery paved the way for treatments that are being tested in clinical trials today. Other major discoveries include the drug cisplatin (a major weapon in the war against testicular cancer) and CART therapy more recently.

A different approach

Whilst much of the focus thus far has been on large pharmaceutical enterprises finding cures for cancer, a medical device company called Owlstone Medical has taken the war on cancer down a different route. Their product, designed to detect cancer signs in order to accurately specify treatment methods is thought to be revolutionary in areas such as stomach, pancreatic and bladder oncology.

Advocacy for the product in the form of Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald (Cancer Research UK – Cambridge) has been an important step and whilst it is clear there is plenty of work to be done in the space, the step towards earlier diagnosis and thus more targeted treatment is a significant one.

The Future

Tackling this huge flaw in human genetics is a mammoth task, one that requires numerous approaches. Owlstone’s view on the matter is encouraging and highlights that companies are thinking differently, it is also encouraging to think that this type of early detection can have an impact on other diseases beyond cancer as well as the broader precision medicine space and I am hopeful that as technology continues to advance, our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of medicine become more and more refined.

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