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Forsaking cures for cancer: why are we discarding the tumour biospecimens of most patients?

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Discarding patients’ cancer samples because of problems with consent processes forgoes potential advances in cancer research, ignores public intent and squanders unique bioresources

Cancers are highly variable — between different types of cancer, between different patients’ cancers and even between different cancer cells within an individual patient’s cancer.1 A critical challenge facing cancer research and therapy is to understand and overcome the heterogeneity of each patient’s cancer. Resected tumours and other samples donated by patients with cancer provide invaluable bioresources for the study of cancer heterogeneity. While animal models and in vitro studies generate therapeutic hypotheses, only confirmation in human cancers can ratify targets as relevant to pursue into the clinic.

Biobanking processes ensure the collection, annotation, management, appropriate storage and transfer of donated (cancer and healthy) tissue and other samples, which are often those resected at surgery. Revolutionary cancer treatments such as mutation-targeted therapies and checkpoint immunotherapy antibodies could not have been developed without studying biobanked biospecimens. Conversely, prospectively annotated high-quality cancer biospecimens are key to understanding which patients will benefit from existing drugs (drug individualisation) and which patients might forgo otherwise…