Harnessing innovation in cancer care

To achieve the NHS ambitions for earlier diagnosis of cancer 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. Innovation is a central part of the NHS Cancer Programme’s strategy to achieve the early diagnosis ambition set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

The NHS Cancer Programme’s Innovation Open Call is identifying and accelerating the most promising innovation into the NHS.

In addition to the NHS Cancer Programme’s Innovation Open Call, we’ve launched a world-first trial of the Galleri blood test, capable of spotting 50+ cancers, and we’ve implemented capsule sponge (sponge-on-a-string test eg CytospongeTM, EndoSign®) and Pillcam Colon Capsule Endoscopy, which are reducing the need for more invasive diagnostic testing.

Innovation Open Call for Cancer

The NHS Cancer Programme’s Innovation Open Call is an important way to identify and support the most promising innovations that will help us to deliver on our early diagnosis ambition. The successful innovations are tested and evaluated in real-world settings, so that those that will make the biggest difference can be rapidly implemented across the NHS.

Applications for the next round will open on Monday 8 April 2024 and close on Wednesday 29 May 2024, 1pm. Read the competition brief.

Since 2021, we’ve delivered 2 open calls and awarded over £24 million to 14 innovations. As a result, almost 30,000 patients have benefited from new innovations being brought into the NHS and it is projected another 240,000 patients will benefit from these innovations.

The Innovation Open Call has funded cancer diagnostic innovations in areas including medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, digital health solutions, behaviour interventions, artificial intelligence, and new models of care.

A full list of the winners and details of their innovations can be found on the NHS Cancer Programme’s Innovation Open Call website.

Galleri blood test trial

The NHS launched a world-first trial of the Galleri blood test, capable of spotting 50+ cancers. 140,000 volunteers in 8 areas of England are taking part in the trial and if early results are promising, the NHS will use up to 1 million tests in England from 2024 to 2026 to assess the test as a screening tool at scale.

Capsule sponge (sponge-on-a-string)

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

NHS England piloted the test in over 30 hospitals across England. The pilot ran between February 2021 and March 2024. Over 8,500 patients have been tested and nearly 150 cases of Barrett’s Oesophagus have been diagnosed. The pilot found the capsule sponge test reduced endoscopy demand in secondary care by 78% and where needed, patients were more likely to receive an urgent onward endoscopy and be seen quicker.

Other key findings from the pilot include:

  • Most patients (82%) were satisfied with their experience of the capsule sponge test and preferred capsule sponge to endoscopy.
  • This pathway is highly cost-effective relative to an endoscopy-only programme.

For questions about the pilot or evaluation contact england.cancerpolicy@nhs.net

Pillcam Colon Capsule Endoscopy

Colon Capsule Endoscopy (CCE) is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure that provides an alternative to colonoscopy for investigating and detecting pathology of the colon, including colorectal cancer.

In February 2021, NHS England commenced a national pilot and evaluation to test CCE’s evidence base, identify quality standards and demonstrate its safety. Pilot data shows that, when used effectively, CCE can safely provide additional diagnostic capacity and system saving benefits, with 70% of patients who received the procedure avoiding colonoscopy, only 14% requiring urgent colonoscopy. Findings from the patient experience evaluation showed that CCE is acceptable to patients and, in those who also have experience of colonoscopy, it is the preferred investigation. Additionally, CCE provides a valuable alternative diagnostic for those who are inappropriate for or unwilling to undergo endoscopy, and it is more environmentally sustainable than alternatives.

Cancer alliance innovation

Building a culture of cutting-edge cancer innovation is essential to deliver on our commitments to improve early diagnosis. We know that we cannot take the same approach to early diagnosis everywhere, and that cancer alliances have a crucial role to play in encouraging and supporting primary and secondary care and wider system stakeholders to initiate, identify and pursue innovations and approaches to early diagnosis that target local priorities for improvement.