Charity’s Largest-Ever Lung Cancer Effort Seeks Causes

Cancer Research UK is making its biggest single investment ever in the study of lung cancer in an effort to identify the genetic mutations suspected to be involved in the spread of the disease.

The nine-year trial called TRACERx will cost about 14 million pounds ($21.3 million) and enroll 850 newly diagnosed patients from across the country. Samples of their tumors will be taken before and after surgery and later if the disease returns. Genetic changes from different parts of the tumor and between patients will be studied, as will the effect of treatment on the disease.

“Lung cancer is where we’ve made relatively little progress,” Harpal Kumar, the charity’s chief executive officer, told reporters at a briefing in London yesterday. ’’We are much better at picking up breast cancers.’’

At least two pharmaceutical companies are talking to the charity about including patients from the trial in their own drug-development programs, Charles Swanton, lead researcher at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute and University College London, said yesterday. He declined to name the companies as they haven’t signed any agreement to work together.

About 42,000 people are diagnosed in the U.K. with lung cancer each year and almost 35,000 die from it, making it the most common cause of cancer death in the U.K., Kumar said. Less than 10 percent of patients survive five years beyond diagnosis as more than two-thirds of cases are discovered at a late stage, the charity said.

While eight out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking, more cases are being discovered in non-smokers as smoking rates decline, Kumar said. Lung cancer has more genetic mutations than any other type of cancer, Swanton said.