Scientists find biomarker for bowel cancer drug

Irish scientists have discovered a biomarker that can predict patients who will benefit the most from a key drug used to treat bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland, with 2,500 diagnosed with the disease each year.

Scientists here and in the Netherlands, part of the AngioPredict research consortium, discovered the bio-marker.

The international research team was led in Ireland by Prof Annette Byrne from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and in the Netherlands by Prof Bauke Ylstra and Dr Nicole van Grieken from VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam.

Prof Byrne said the study has identified a potential biomarker that could be used by doctors in the future to distinguish between patients who will benefit from Avastin and patients who would not respond.

“Further research is ongoing to develop a laboratory test so that the biomarker can be applied in clinical daily practice,” she said.

Our overall goal is to improve the standard of care for colorectal cancer and to make sure that patients only receive drugs that will work specifically in the setting of their own disease. This will reduce side-effects, treatment costs, and improve patients’ outcomes.

Half of colorectal cancer patients develop metastatic cancer — where the disease spreads to other parts of the body, for which Avastin is a key component of therapy.

The scientists analysed genetic alterations from archival tumour samples from patients with advanced colorectal cancer for which the complete disease course was known.

Patients with tumours that lost part of chromosome 18 had a higher survival rate when treated with Avastin, but those with an intact chromosome 18 did not.

The research is published in the prestigious international Journal of Clinical Oncology.

More than three in five people (63%) with bowel cancer will survive for at least five years and 95% of those diagnosed at stage one will survive the disease. Bowel cancer most commonly occurs in people over 60 years of age.

Meanwhile, the RCSI has opened a new €80m medical education building in Dublin. It is the largest and most modern facility of its kind in Europe.

The centrepiece is a simulation centre laid out over three floors where students and healthcare professionals have access to a world-class surgical and training suite with clinical skills laboratories, a mock operating theatre, and clinical training wards.

RCSI chief executive, Prof Cathal Kelly, said students will achieve the highest clinical skills standards before working directly with patients.

“It will also focus on character development, building resilience, and leadership,” he said.

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