A new personalised breast cancer programme has been launched to map patients’ DNA and RNA to tailor treatment.

The Cancer Research UK project, which was launched with £1.1 million from Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, (ACT), will analyse the genome and all expressed genes of tumour cells from 250 breast cancer patients.

Researchers say that finding out what genes have become faulty in breast cancer cells will help them better understand more about how cancer develops and spreads.

Breast cancer patients are treated based on the broad types of cancer, for example, those that are likely to respond to hormone therapies, but it can be difficult to predict how individual patients will respond to treatment.

The researchers hope to find out how personalised diagnosis and treatment programme could be implemented in the National Health Service’s (NHS) breast cancer unit in Cambridge and hope that one day this will extend around the UK.

Professor Richard Gilbertson, director of the Cancer Research UK Major Cancer Centre at Cambridge University, said: “The Personalised Breast Cancer Project is truly ground-breaking.

“By sequencing the entire tumour genome of women with breast cancer in our clinic and integrating this extensive data with other biological and clinical observations, we will assign patients to optimal therapy, changing the way we treat breast cancer forever.”

Professor Carlos Caldas, project lead at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “We already know that there are about ten different types of breast cancer and these respond differently to the available treatments.

“We’re looking at ways to predict this response, ensuring individual patients get the best treatment for them. We hope that this project will accelerate progress in developing personalised treatment for breast cancer patients.”

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive officer, said: “Today eight in ten women with breast cancer survive their disease for at least ten years. The ability to tailor treatment to individual patients will help ensure this number continues to rise and should help reduce side effects. This project will bring us closer to making personalised medicine a reality in the NHS and beyond.”

• A combination of two drugs could help some breast cancer patients with advanced cancer live longer, according to a small clinical trial.

The treatment delayed the time it took for the disease to get worse in women with advanced breast cancer compared to those given just one of the drugs, according to the results presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in the US.

Dr Noah Kornblum, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US and one of the researchers behind the study, urged caution until larger studies confirm the results but said the combination could offer an alternative treatment approach for some women with breast cancer in the future.

The study looked at 130 postmenopausal women who had a type of breast cancer called ‘HR-positive’ and had advanced disease, meaning their cancer had spread and stopped responding to a type of hormone treatment called an aromatase inhibitor.

In the trial, the researchers tested a different hormone therapy – called fulvestrant (Faslodex) – either with a placebo or in combination with another cancer drug called everolimus (Afinitor).

The researchers reported that, on average, it took twice as long for tumours to start growing again in those who were given the combination of cancer drugs, compared to those given fulvestrant with a placebo. Women given both drugs also experienced more side effects than those given just one.

Professor Arnie Purushotham,, Cancer Research UK’s senior clinical adviser, said: “Finding a group of breast cancer patients who may benefit from everolimus is promising but the study was in only 100 patients so larger trials are needed to confirm the findings. We need new treatments for women with this form of breast cancer and, if larger trials are successful, we’ll need to find ways to reduce the drug’s side-effects.”