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LifeArc and Sarcoma UK fund research to guide treatment decisions in rare cancer

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A £150,000 grant from LifeArc and the charity Sarcoma UK will fund a study of a new biomarker test that could improve outcomes for patients with a rare sarcoma cancer.

The grant will fund a four-year research project at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, determining if a biomarker test is accurate in identifying those patients with soft tissue sarcomas who could best respond to a particular line of treatment.

The study, led by Dr Paul Huang and Professor Robin Jones, in collaboration with scientists at MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Texas, US, will also help to determine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of incorporating the biomarker test into routine clinical practice, as well as potentially influencing the use and availability of the drug pazopanib.

The team is seeking a commercial partner to further develop the test – and you can read about the commercial opportunity in this brochure.

Biomarkers to predict treatment response

Soft tissue sarcomas are a group of rare cancers that develop in the soft tissues of the body. Treatment options for this type of cancer are limited, yet desperately needed – as just 10 per cent of people diagnosed with advanced disease survive for five years or more.

Standard treatment for soft tissue sarcoma includes the targeted drug, pazopanib. People on this drug see their tumour controlled for an average of three months.

However, early studies of the biomarker test, known as the KARSARC test – developed by Dr Huang and Professor Jones – has shown it can identify a subgroup of patients who are exceptional responders to pazopanib, with a typical progression-free survival of around 13 months compared to 4-6 months.

The KARSARC test identifies patients most likely to respond to pazopanib based on measuring the levels of a panel of selected genes in their tumour. It is the first validated biomarker test that can identify long-term patient drug response across different subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma.

While pazopanib is an approved drug, it is currently not recommended for use on the NHS because the large variation in patient response deems it not cost effective enough for use.

The ability to identify those who will most benefit from pazopanib would offer a more cost-effective use of the treatment, as well as sparing those who will be unlikely to benefit from unnecessary side effects.

Improving patient outcomes

Dr Paul Huang, Reader in Molecular and Translational Oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “We are very grateful to LifeArc and Sarcoma UK for funding this project into a new biomarker test for patients with soft tissue sarcoma.

“Our lab focuses on unravelling the biology behind rare sarcoma cancers and finding new ways to treat them. The ability to identify patients with soft tissue sarcoma who will most likely benefit from pazopanib therapy using our biomarker test would aid clinical decision-making, increase the clinical and cost effectiveness of the drug, and improve patient outcomes.’’

Professor Robin Jones, Professor in Sarcoma Oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Patients with soft tissue sarcoma whose cancer has spread have a very poor prognosis. Our biomarker test will be able give some of these patients more time before their cancer progresses, giving them extra precious time to spend with their loved ones.

“We hope that the results of this study demonstrate that, alongside our biomarker test, use of the drug pazopanib can be an effective and cost-efficient option for these patients on the NHS.”

Anji Miller, Senior Business Manager at LifeArc said: “LifeArc is committed to helping take scientific ideas out of the lab and into medical breakthroughs for patients. We want to help address some of biggest challenges that patients face, across a range of diseases and helping to match treatment to the patients most likely to benefit, is a great example of how we can do this. We are delighted to be working with Sarcoma UK and the ICR to bring benefits to people living with Sarcoma, and look forward to seeing the results of the trial.”

Dr Sorrel Bickley, Director of Research Policy and Support at Sarcoma UK, said: “We’re delighted to be funding this exciting research in collaboration with LifeArc. New treatments for advanced soft tissue sarcoma are urgently needed, and this project has the potential to result in real impact for people with sarcoma.”


To speak to Sarcoma UK, contact the press office by emailing Rory O’Brien, PR and Communications Officer at Sarcoma UK at rory.obrien@sarcoma.org.uk, or calling 07495 218282.

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