Manchester researchers awarded £1 million to test potential life-saving technology for early detection of liver cancer

Manchester researchers have been awarded over £1 million by NHS England to explore the use of an innovative test for liver cancer, which will help patients access earlier care and potentially save lives.

The team at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) and The University of Manchester (UoM) will implement the new technology across MFT hospitals. The test aims to improve early detection of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – the most common cancer affecting the liver and the third most common cause of cancer death.

One of the risks for developing HCC is a pre-existing liver disease and scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Around two in 100 patients with cirrhosis will develop HCC every year.

In early, curable stages, HCC can have no symptoms and so it is recommended that everyone with known cirrhosis is tested twice a year. Unfortunately, even with current recommended surveillance, more than half of these patients are diagnosed with HCC at a stage where it cannot be cured.

The project is supported by Roche Diagnostics who developed the test, called Elecsys®GAAD alongside researchers at MFT, UoM and not-for-profit organisation, Vocal who provided valuable input from people affected by liver cancer.

Elecsys®GAAD is being fast-tracked into the NHS at MFT, which provides specialist liver care to the Greater Manchester region. It will be used alongside routine surveillance tests to see how it can benefit patients, so they have the best chance of surviving this type of cancer.

The technology is a fully regulated, accurate test that combines blood tests with gender and age, which indicates the presence of HCC.

Project lead Dr Varinder Athwal, Consultant Hepatologist at MFT and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, said: “Manchester has some of the highest rates of liver disease and liver cancer in the UK and far too many people are diagnosed when curative treatment is not possible. We need better tools to identify liver cancer earlier, when it can be cured. This innovation is a non-invasive test that easily fits into our current pathway, and we hope that it will enable us to diagnose more people at early, curable stages of primary liver cancer. As one of the largest trusts in the country, MFT is uniquely placed to test the innovation.”

Professor Rick Body, Group Director of Research and Innovation at MFT, said: “We are delighted to receive this funding and very proud to deliver this important research at MFT. Early diagnosis of cancer provides the best chance for successful treatment, which is why implementing this innovative test is so important. We are hopeful that this research will have a huge impact on the future of diagnosis for HCC and will ultimately save lives.”

Professor Neil Hanley, Vice-Dean for Research and Innovation at UoM said: “This new innovative test is a really exciting development and further compelling evidence that if we pull on our strength working across university, NHS and commercial boundaries we will translate research into innovations that make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Annie Keane, Deputy Director of Vocal, hosted by MFT and UoM, said: “We’re delighted to support this vital project to bring about better outcomes for people with liver cancer. We’ve worked with the public to develop the funding bid from an early stage. We’ll continue to work in partnership with patients and the public to ensure they are meaningfully involved throughout, including the implementation of the test, as members of the core project team.”

Chris Hudson, Director of Access and Innovation at Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland said: “We are thrilled this funding award from NHS England gives us the opportunity to build on the trusted partnership we already have with colleagues in Manchester and the important work we are doing together to identify liver disease more accurately and sooner. By bringing together the collective knowledge and expertise of academic, medical and industry partners, this new project has the potential to streamline the diagnosis and treatment pathway for patients with liver cancer across the UK, to improve their experience and outcomes, and help alleviate pressure on the NHS.”

Work to rollout Elecsys®GAAD will be supported by Health Innovation Manchester, in partnership with the Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Findings from the implementation of the test at MFT will be used to co-develop a plan for the national roll out of the technology. This is supported by National Institute for Health and Care Research London MedTech In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative, Imperial College London – who are observing the impact of the new technology on the NHS and Unity Insights who are carrying out an independent evaluation of the findings across the project.

This work was commissioned and funded by the NHS Cancer Programme, with the support of SBRI Healthcare and the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative (Project Reference Number NCPC02013). The views expressed in the publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS Cancer Programme or its stakeholders.

/Public Release. View in full here.