New blood test speeds up cancer detection

The University of Nottingham and spinoff company Oncimmune have developed a blood test that could help detect cancer as many as five years earlier than mammography and CT scans.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
The Oncimmune laboratory The University of Nottingham

The detection and treatment of solid cancers such as lung, breast, ovarian, colon, and prostate cancers could be on the verge of a major makeover, thanks to a new blood test developed at the University of Nottingham and spinoff company Oncimmune.

Early in a tumor's development, cancer cells produce antigens that trigger the body's immune system to release auto-antibodies in an attempt to fight them off. The body produces an abundance of these auto-antibodies to win the battle--more than the tumor does antigens, making the auto-antibodies easier to detect.

The test measures a panel of auto-antibodies in a blood sample to determine the likelihood of a tumor being present. In clinical trials, it has helped detect cancer as many as five years earlier than current mammography and CT scans.

Based on the early work of John Robertson, a renowned breast cancer specialist and University of Nottingham professor who launched Oncimmune in 2003, the company's first blood test to hit the market--called EarlyCDT-Lung--is to be released in the U.S. later this month and in the U.K. in early 2011.

"We believe this test, along with the others we will launch in the next few years, will lead to a better prognosis for a significant number of cancer sufferers," says Geoffrey Hamilton-Fairley, Oncimmune's executive chairman, in a news release.

The research first launched at Nottingham analyzed blood samples from patients with breast cancer and a group of high-risk women in for an annual mammography. Robertson identified not only the signal in the blood of those women who developed breast cancer, but he also found that his prototype test could have detected cancer in more than half the patients up to four years before they were eventually diagnosed.

The more recent research resulting in the lung cancer test came out of a European Union grant involving the university and Oncimmune.

The EarlyCDT-Lung test's target population is high-risk individuals, from long-term and ex-smokers over the age of 40 to people exposed to radon, asbestos, or extensive second-hand smoke.

Oncimmune says EarlyCDT-Lung will be available in the U.S. via primary care physicians and pulmonologists, and the company will bill private insurance companies as well as government-run Medicare Part B carriers on behalf of the patient.

"I am very pleased that the initial exciting research data that we produced in the laboratories at the University of Nottingham a number of years ago have been translated by Oncimmune to the first of many tests that will help us identify cancer early," Robertson said. "It has been a long and at times very hard road in creating a robust commercial test."