Using the PinPoint Test in the earliest stages of clinical investigations means that doctors will be able to determine within 72 hours how likely it is a patient has cancer, and either prioritise them for hospital testing or rule them out of the cancer pathway entirely
The ‘PinPoint Test’ has been developed by Leeds based start-up, PinPoint Data Science, in collaboration with the NHS and the University of Leeds.
If successful, the test aims to reduce cancer backlogs and give GPs a tool with which to fast- track high-risk patients.
West Yorkshire is the first region in the country to evaluate this new test and if successful, doctors in the area will be first in line to make it available to patients on a fast track pathway for suspected cancer.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust are both participating in the evaluation at the secondary care level and GPs in Wakefield and North Kirklees are also offering the test to eligible patients.
In England, GPs refer over 2.5 million people suspected of having cancer to the ‘two week wait’ urgent cancer referral pathway every year.
More than 90 per cent of suspected cancer referrals made by GPs in England do not have cancer, but confirmation of this requires multiple expensive, time consuming and stressful diagnostic tests.
The PinPoint test is designed to reduce the number of patients needing these tests, thereby reducing patient anxiety, pressure on doctors and maximising the use of diagnostic capacity.
The unique potential of the PinPoint Test is that by identifying those at lowest risk of cancer, it is able to remove up to 20% of patients from the urgent referral pathway – that’s 500,000 people per year that can be given the all clear for cancer without ever needing to go to a hospital.
That means less pressure on the system and shorter waiting lists for those that need urgent medical care.
PinPoint is also one of the recent winning innovations to receive funding as part of the NHS Innovation Open Call for cancer. Eight winning entrants have been selected and will receive almost £10m funding for late stage innovation projects. PinPoint is focused on expanding its service to fourother regions in England.
Like most people, the team at PinPoint Data Science have their own personal experience with cancer. PinPoint Chief Scientist, Dr Richard Savage, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 25, when he was studying for his PhD at the University of Cambridge. It was caught early and he made a full recovery but the shock of that discovery changed the course of his life.
From a background in astrophysics, Savage began working on analysing medical data and thinking about how algorithms might hold the answer to quickly and accurately understanding the signals in our blood.
Dr Savage said: “I began to realise that by applying what we now call machine learning to something like a blood test, we could take a very complex set of data and boil it down to one critical piece of information, how likely a patient is to have cancer.
“The thing about the NHS ‘two week wait’ is that it’s a great system but it is a victim of its own success.
“It has been so effective at catching cancer early that GPs are referring more and more people, just to be safe. But the reality is the vast majority of people referred to the two week wait don’t actually have cancer.
"In fact, over 90% of people referred don’t have cancer but they all have to go through the stress of hospital visits and waiting for appointments before finally getting the all clear.
“The more people are referred, the longer the waiting lists and the longer it takes for those patients that do have cancer to be diagnosed.”
Giles Tully, PinPoint CEO, suffered the loss of his mother to pancreatic cancer at age 16.
He said: “Looking back, what I remember most is the uncertainty. She had breast cancer when I was 11 and from then on it was always in the back of my mind, will it come back? What's going to happen? What people often overlook is the toll that anxiety takes on whole families over a period of weeks and months.
“When I see how the NHS is struggling with backlogs, it makes me think of all the people at home, worrying about whether they or their loved ones have cancer. That’s what drives me to get the PinPoint test out there; so they can stop worrying or get the treatment they need fast.” says Tully.
Professor Sean Duffy, Strategic Clinical Director of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance said: “In West Yorkshire and Harrogate, we have an excellent track record of fostering innovation across the region through partnership working. The PinPoint test is just one example of where innovations in the delivery of care and services have come to the fore during the challenging times of the pandemic.
“Early diagnosis saves lives. This test will help to relieve the increasing pressure on hospitals caused by Covid and other increasing demand for services by enabling them to identify those patients who need to be seen most urgently.
“The test is being phased in gradually so availability across the region may vary, but we encourage patients to ask their doctor about the PinPoint Test evaluation. Every volunteer that comes forward now plays a vital role in bringing us closer to delivering better cancer diagnostics for the future.”
More information can be found on the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance website: https://canceralliance.wyhpartnership.co.uk/our-work/innovations-programme/pinpoint-test