Professor Peter Johnson of the Centre for Cancer Immunology is to lead a ground-breaking project, which will explore new ways to diagnose lung cancer earlier and save lives.

Centre for Cancer Immunology
Professor Peter Johnson

Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer death in the UK and worldwide. In the UK, 25,000 people are diagnosed with advanced, inoperable lung cancer every year.

As well as targeting increased survival rates, the new project – called iDx-LUNG – aims to improve the efficiency of testing in people at high risk of cancer. The best current method of checking lung health, CT scanning, is resource-intense and expensive – diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer currently costs the NHS £307m every year.

The study, which also involves the University of Leeds and is coordinated by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit based in the Centre, will ask 15,000 people who attend NHS England lung health checks at mobile CT scanners in Hampshire and Yorkshire to give blood samples and nasal swabs for testing. The samples will be analysed for changes that could indicate early cancer development. The tests to be used in the study have never been used in combination or with CT scanning.

Professor Johnson said: “We urgently need to find ways to detect lung cancer early, to drive up people’s chances of a cure.  This unique collaborative effort between universities, the NHS and companies with ground-breaking technologies is aimed at doing just that.”

The project is being led by a medical research consortium, which sees the Universities of Southampton and Leeds come together with healthcare, diagnostics and informatics companies for the project. It will link to the NHS England Targeted Lung Health Checks programme and the research collaborators include the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson*, Roche, Oncimmune, Inivata, BC Platforms and others.

The research, part of the Government’s Early Diagnosis Mission to diagnose three-quarters of cancers at an early stage by 2028, is able to proceed thanks to approximately £3.5m-worth of funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), part of a total investment of £10 million in the programme overall.

Richard Neal, Professor of Primary Care Oncology at the University of Leeds, and a GP in the city said: “We are delighted to be working on this important project with University of Southampton, the NHS and industry partners. Lung cancer remains a huge problem as we continue to see it diagnosed at a very advanced stage, when curative treatments could have been possible. This work will help us to target those at most risk and diagnose the disease at an earlier and treatable stage.”

Professor Johsnon recently spoke of the new project in a Distinguished Lecture for the University of Southampton. Watch the Lecture again here.