Local research contributes to national multi-cancer blood test findings

The team behind the SYMPLIFY and OSCAR trials.

Published: 9 August 2023

NHS teams in Torbay and South Devon have contributed to a study which found that a blood test that detects more than 50 types of cancer has real promise.

In 2021, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust was selected to participate in the SYMPLIFY trial, led by the team from the University of Oxford Clinical Trials Unit (OCTO). This trial used GRAIL’s new Galleri blood test to detect tumour DNA in patients with symptoms of possible cancer.

Cancer researchers have long sought to develop an easy to use, minimally invasive test to detect cancer at an earlier and potentially more curable stage.

While screening programmes exist for some cancers, there are still too many that are picked up only once symptoms occur. In some cases, this may be at a time when the disease can’t be cured.

Delivering this trial required significant collaboration and enthusiasm from a wide range of teams; especially collaboration between teams approaching patients for the trial and the oncology clinical trial staff. The trial launched when the NHS was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it had a tight and challenging recruitment window.

In the three-month recruitment window, 386 patients participated at Torbay Hospital out of a total of 5,000 in the UK. The results of the SYMPLIFY trial have now been published which showed the blood test demonstrated the ability to detect a cancer diagnosis in 75% of cases, while also correctly identifying in 85% of cases where the cancer had originated from.

Dr Louise Medley, the Principal Investigator (PI) for the study at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The SYMPLIFY trial demonstrated the dedication of teams involved in the diagnosis of cancer at Torbay. The enthusiasm of everyone in offering this cutting-edge technology to patients was heart-warming.

“We are very grateful to all the patients and staff involved in the SYMPLIFY trial. They should be very proud of the part they have played in taking us forward in improving the earlier diagnosis of cancer.”

While the SYMPLIFY study was the first trial locally to embed clinical trials in the early cancer diagnostic pathway, other studies are now open to people living in the local area. Torbay and South Devon is currently recruiting to the OSCAR trial, in collaboration with the CI Prof. Luis Mur and his team at Aberystwyth University, which aims to develop a blood/urine test to detect urological cancers.

The OSCAR trial will use machine learning to assess thousands of blood and urine samples from cancer and non-cancer patients, to see whether there are any tell-tale signs of cancer that could be used diagnostically.

Dr Anna Lydon, the PI leading the OSCAR study at Torbay and South Devon, said: “Participating in the OSCAR study builds on our experience with the SYMPLIFY study. Urology and oncology services have worked closely together for many years, and this trial really embeds that collaboration. If successful, we will be able to diagnose urological cancers earlier and avoid unnecessary testing for some patients.

“We are so impressed by the motivation of our current patients and the staff in urology and oncology, working very hard to realise this hope.”

The NHS Long Term Plan for cancer focuses on improving early diagnosis to improve outcomes. Embedding clinical trials into the cancer diagnostic pathway will help to deliver on this agenda for our local population. The research and development department at Torbay and South Devon is taking a pivotal role in the development of these new tests, looking to a future where early detection is part of routine care.