Harnessing innovation in cancer care

The NHS has set ambitious targets for the earlier diagnosis of cancer. From 2028, an extra 55,000 people each year will survive for five years or more following their cancer diagnosis; and three in four cancers (75%) will be diagnosed at an early stage

To achieve these ambitions, we are delivering important programmes that have already been proven to work, such as targeted lung health checks and extending the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. However, success will also mean harnessing the latest technology and newest approaches to cancer diagnosis as they are discovered.

Our series of annual Innovation Open Call competitions is an important  way in which the NHS Cancer Programme identifies and supports the most promising innovations that will help us to deliver on our ambitions. The successful innovations will be tested and evaluated in real-world settings, so that those that will make the biggest difference can be rapidly implemented across the NHS. In this video, Professor Richard Gilbertson, Chair of the Innovation Expert Advisory Group, gives an overview of the competition and some of the exciting innovations.

The first cancer Innovation Open Call competition was launched in March 2021. Eight innovations have been awarded funding and support to be implemented at in the NHS.

A second competition will open in spring 2022 focused on early diagnosis. The challenge brief is available on SBRI Healthcare’s website and further information will be published in the coming weeks on their website.

Round one cancer innovation competition winners

The winners of the first competition were announced in February 2022. Using the latest technology, innovations include digital, cloud-based and mobile communication platforms, artificial intelligence assisted scanning and imaging diagnostic software, medical devices and blood testing to detect cancers more quickly. These innovations will help to improve both early detection of cancer and diagnostic efficiency for cancer services.

Improving NHS urgent referral pathways using an artificial intelligence driven, affordable blood test, PinPoint Data Science Limited

PinPoint is a new type of blood test designed to help GPs to determine the chance that a patient has cancer. Over 90% of cancer referrals made by GPs in England do not have cancer but undergo expensive, time consuming and stressful diagnostic tests. The PinPoint test identifies both high-risk and very low-risk patients. This will reduce the number of people needing these tests, improve the patient experience and allow doctors to fast-track those at highest risk, improving the early detection of cancer.

Telescopic referrals to increase efficiency of the head and neck two week wait cancer pathway, Endoscope-i Ltd

Head and neck cancer is rare, but it is challenging to exclude because much of the throat area can be difficult for GPs to examine. Endoscope-i is an endoscope with a recording device that enables doctors to capture high-definition images from suspected head and neck cancer patients. These images can then be transferred through a novel management pathway to specialist cancer consultants for a diagnosis potentially within minutes, streamlining the cancer pathway for patients.

Scaling and evaluating a clinical pathway management system to optimise referral, triage and diagnostic workflow, Open Medical Ltd

Pathpoint eDerma is a clinical pathway management system to help diagnose skin cancer and rapidly exclude patients without cancer from the diagnostic pathway. Using smart phones and tablets, dermoscopy images of the suspected skin cancer can be reviewed and triaged immediately, streamlining the patient pathway from referral to diagnosis and treatment.

Whole body MRI for inherited cancer early diagnosis (SIGNIFIED), The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS) is an inherited condition that puts people at a very high risk of developing certain types of cancer. Currently the only screening for these patients is annual breast screening for females. Implementing annual whole-body MRI scans in patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome can help to detect cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat.

Artificial intelligence (AI) assisted Chest X-ray triage, Qure.ai Technologies Limited

This innovative AI algorithm interprets patient chest X-rays and identifies abnormalities which could indicate lung cancer. The tool prioritises patients with suspected lung cancer, so these patients can receive their results at the time of the test rather than waiting for a report back to their GP. Patients requiring further diagnostic scans can receive these in the same visit, supporting the faster and earlier diagnosis of lung cancer.

MSI-Plus assay for Lynch Syndrome screening and therapeutic targeting, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition that significantly increases a person’s risk of developing certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. In the UK, according to Bowel Cancer UK, less than 5% of individuals know they have the condition. The MSI-Plus assay can be used to test colorectal cancer patients for Lynch syndrome which informs their treatment and care options. Family members can also then be tested and protected as appropriate. Unlike current tests, MSI-Plus allows simultaneous testing for markers to diagnose Lynch syndrome and other markers important for cancer treatment, at high volume and low cost.

Applying a cancer care toolkit for improving time from diagnosis to treatment, Orion Medtech Ltd C.I.C

This innovation is a digital platform to support the management of patients diagnosed with brain cancer from diagnosis through to treatment. The platform allows data to be shared between hospital trusts and will enable diagnostic tests, clinic reviews and discussion between specialists to happen in parallel, reducing the time to treatment and streamlining the process for patients.

Liquid biopsies for faster diagnosis of pancreatic and biliary tract Cancers, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust 

Pancreatic and biliary tract cancers can be difficult to diagnose because of their location within the body. Patients require invasive tests which often need to be repeated if a diagnosis cannot be made, which can be unpleasant and distressing. This new diagnostic blood test could prevent some patients from having to have invasive tests and provide them with a faster and safer diagnosis.

Other innovations supported by the NHS Cancer Programme

Galleri, GRAIL

The cancer programme team has launched a world-first trial of the Galleri blood test, capable of spotting 50+ cancers, to look at its effectiveness as a potential screening tool. The Galleri test checks for the earliest signs of cancer in the blood and the NHS-Galleri trial, the first of its kind, aims to recruit 140,000 volunteers in eight areas of England to see how well the test works in the NHS.

CytospongeMedtronic and Cyted

A cell collection device that offers a less invasive way to collect oesophageal cells for review. Samples collected using the Cytosponge are then analysed using Cyted’s AI-powered digital pathology platform to identify early signs of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.

Pillcam colon capsule endoscopy, Medtronic

Capsule endoscopy solution to provide clear images of the colon to support the detection of polyps with a non-invasive patient friendly device.

Cancer Alliance innovation

Cancer Alliances are working locally with the academic health science networks, NHS trusts and primary care to pilot additional innovations in response to local needs that further support the ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan.

For further information and enquiries, please contact us at england.cancerpolicy@nhs.net