NHS backs ‘pioneering’ new cancer innovations set to transform cancer diagnoses in England

Thousands of patients are set to benefit from pioneering new technology being backed by the NHS that aims to revolutionise cancer testing techniques across the country.

Almost £10 million will be awarded to eight projects this week after the NHS ran an open call for innovation in cancer care last year.

Among the eight cutting-edge projects to receive funding is an artificial intelligence system that can interpret and prioritise abnormal chest x-rays to help spot lung cancer sooner; an endoscope-smartphone adapter that can turn a normal iPhone into essential diagnostic equipment for head and neck cancers; and a pioneering new blood test for diagnosing cancers.

The PinPoint test is a new smart blood test that uses artificial-intelligence and will allow one in five patients to be ruled out of having one of the nine most common cancers, including breast, gynaecological, skin and head and neck cancers.

NHS health chiefs have hailed the test as a potentially revolutionary new tool that will help the NHS patients with a high risk of cancer get diagnosed and treated quicker, provide reassurance to patients that they are unlikely to have cancer and enable patients to be investigated for other conditions faster.

Each project is being fast-tracked into the NHS to see how they can benefit patients by detecting cancer early and improve the efficiency of diagnostic services, in a real-world setting.

Professor Peter Johnson, Clinical Director of the NHS Cancer Programme, said: “Working out how to make use of ground-breaking ideas like the PinPoint test is key to improving outcomes for people with cancer.

“The companies and hospitals pioneering these innovative ideas are leading the way, and will help us to diagnose cancer earlier when it is easier to treat – potentially saving thousands of lives.

“Today’s development funding, which is part of our open call initiative, is just one of many opportunities to attract and fast-track high quality innovations into the NHS, supporting the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan and vitally, improving care for our patients”.

The most recent published NHS data shows that a record 246,000 people were checked for cancer in November 2021 – three times more than at the beginning of the pandemic.

Monthly NHS data also shows that more than nine in ten people received their first treatment for cancer within a month of a diagnosis – a level that has not dipped below 90% throughout the pandemic.

Other projects that were successful in bidding for funding will be using digital technologies, such as mobile communication platforms and apps to detect cancers quicker, better organise services and reduce the NHS’s cancer care costs.

Professor Richard Gilbertson, Chair of the NHS Innovation External Advisory Board, said: “There has never been a more exciting and inspiring time to work in cancer research and treatment. The NHS is an incredible organisation, providing joined-up healthcare to an entire nation through a single system. This affords us with a unique opportunity to partner with experts in academia and industry, and bring the latest innovations in early cancer diagnosis and intervention to patients quicker.

“The projects supported by these awards are the first of many new devices and diagnostics that we hope will bring us closer to the day when no patient dies of cancer”.

Health chiefs believe the open innovation call is an important mechanism for supporting innovators, and supports the NHS to deliver its Long Term Plan ambitions to see 55,000 more people each year surviving their cancer for five years or longer by 2028 and three quarters of people with cancer being diagnosed at an early stage by 2028.

Following the success of this open call for innovation in cancer care, the NHS is launching its second round in spring 2022. The competition will be seeking promising new ideas across medical devices, digital health and equipment, behaviour interventions and new models of care, which can benefit patients and frontline NHS staff working in cancer services.

More information on the open call for innovation in cancer round one winners and details about the second open call are available on our website and SBRI Healthcare’s website.