From Matthew Partridge, across the river from the City
Last week, I looked at how 'proton beam therapy' could improve the way we treat cancer.
But there's another area of cancer treatment that could be even more exciting.
You see, if you want to make a major improvement to survival rates, one thing helps more than almost anything else – catching cancer early.
And one London-listed company may have the key to doing just that…
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Coming to a town near you…
Do you live near a future shale gas field?
Will the controversial technique known as fracking soon come to a town near you?
How would that affect your life? Do you understand what fracking is? And would you stand to make any money if it does?
Given the fact that half of Britain is thought to have major shale deposits, these are questions you cannot ignore.
Start getting some answers here.
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The best way to improve cancer treatment – catch it early
Detecting cancer early has a dramatic effect on your survival prospects. Someone found to have early stage lung cancer has slightly better than 50/50 odds of being alive five years later. However, this drops to just 1–4% for someone with stage four lung cancer (the most advanced form).
So if you want to improve survival rates, catching cancer early is one of the best ways to do it. Unfortunately, nearly half of those found to have cancer in the UK are not diagnosed until it has reached stages three or four.
Much of this is down to the fact that existing diagnosis technology isn't perfect.
Some cancers are easy to diagnose. For instance, a clear sign of blood cancer is a big spike in the number of white blood cells.
But in most cases doctors have to use x-rays, MRIs and CT scans to look inside the patient's body. These methods all have their strengths, but they also have problems. X-rays are potentially harmful in themselves, while CT and MRI scans are expensive. And all methods have difficulty in finding smaller cancers.
Even if a scan finds a lump or a suspicious spot, this may not be conclusive in itself – it is not always easy to tell the difference between benign growths and malign tumours. A biopsy (where a section of the suspect growth is taken and sampled) is needed. This all adds to the time taken to reach a diagnosis. And of course, some organs are very difficult to biopsy, or can't be analysed in this way.
Hunting down the early warning signs of cancer
So is there a better way? One company thinks it can improve diagnosis methods by exploiting how cancerous cells spread around the body.
Malignant tumours send out circulating tumour cells (CTCs). A small number of these cells then settle in other parts of the body. This is how cancer can quickly spread between distant organs (eg from the lungs to the brain).
CTCs were discovered as early as 1869. But it was only in recent years that scientists realised that changes in their number could show that a cancer was getting bigger, or was returning in a patient who had recovered.
Trouble is, they are very hard to detect because they are present in very, very small numbers. Some systems have tried to beat this problem by looking for evidence that the patients' immune systems are working against CTCs. But these indirect tests have limited accuracy.
The good news is that a new test – Parsortix – has been developed. This allows doctors to separate individual CTCs from normal blood cells. The presence of even small number of CTCs is a big red flag that a patient has cancer.
The key benefit of this approach is that it allows cancer to be detected at a much earlier stage. This means that treatment can be started much more quickly. It can also give doctors an idea of how quickly the cancer is spreading, which can in turn show whether a course of treatment is working or needs to be adjusted.
But there's another benefit. CTCs are a copy of the original tumour, which means they provide a lot of information about the type of cancer a patient has. Drug companies are producing more and more drugs tailored to specific types of tumour – so knowing exactly what they are dealing with helps doctors to choose the correct treatment, down to the exact drugs. This can greatly the improve odds of survival.
How to invest in early diagnosis
Angle (Aim: AGL) is the company behind the Parsortix system, which is in an advanced stage of development. All of the technical hurdles have been passed, with the product ready for the market. As well as the company's own trials, it has successfully passed external tests with the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Surrey.
Angle is talking to major hospitals in the hope that they could help it quickly become a standard treatment for detecting cancers. While it is still awaiting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, this is expected to come by the end of the month. With Parsortix already on sale in the EU, it should be a formality.
Of course, you should be aware that this is a risky investment. Parsortix is Angle's only major product. The company hasn't made any money for several years. So if this product isn't a success, it hasn't got anything else to fall back on.
However, with the cancer diagnostics market estimated to be worth as much as $15bn, and growing at a very fast rate, the potential upside is huge.
By the way – if this is the sort of investment opportunity that you like to hear about, you might be interested to know that my colleague and small cap expert David Thornton first recommended Angle to his readers back in February. You can find out what other small cap opportunities David has his eye on here.
Got a comment on this article? Leave a comment on the MoneyWeek website, here.
Senior Writer, MoneyWeek
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The FTSE 100 fell heavily yesterday, sliding 0.9% to close at 6,773.
Tesco dragged the index down, falling 11.6% after saying it had overstated its profits. Miners also had a bad day. Glencore lost 4.9%, Rio Tinto fell 3.8%, and BHP Billiton was 3.5% lower.
In Europe, the Paris CAC 40 fell 19 points to 4,442, and the German Xetra Dax lost 50 points to 9,749.
In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.6% to 17,172, the S&P 500 lost 0.8% to 1,994 , and the Nasdaq Composite was 1.1% lower at 4,527.
In Japan, markets were closed for a public holiday. And in China, the Shanghai Composite and the CSI 300 each rose 0.9% to 2,309 and 2,399 respectively.
Brent spot was trading at $97.17 early today, and in New York, crude oil was at $91.10. Spot gold was trading at $1,218 an ounce, silver was at $17.67 and platinum was at $1,333.
In the forex markets this morning, sterling was trading against the US dollar at 1.6306 and against the euro at 1.2682. The dollar was trading at 0.7777 against the euro and 108.36 against the Japanese yen.
And today, Mothercare says it is to launch a £100m rights issue. £45m is to be spent closing some shops and refitting others. The rest will be spent on paying down debt, and improving IT systems to "transform the group into a digitally-led business".
The serious threat to investors posed by Scottish independence
We have a very important and urgent message this morning.
So important, we have taken the step of interrupting your normal Money Morning email.
The truth is, we’re worried.
We’re worried you watch the news, see the vote for Scottish independence drawing closer and think somehow it has nothing to do with you.
But we think nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, we think unprepared investors could be in for a nasty shock if Scotland goes to the polls on Thursday and votes ‘Yes’.
I’m Scottish. I was born and raised there. Our Editor-in-Chief, Merryn, lives in Scotland.
We are both extremely concerned.
Because you should understand that a ‘Yes’ vote will likely affect your money.
Look, we are not politicians, so we don’t have to worry about being re-elected. We don’t have to concern ourselves with being popular. But as editors of Britain’s biggest financial magazine – it is our duty to show you what could really happen.
We simply want to reveal a few stark truths that will be a wake-up call.
We have written a special piece explaining what we think could be about to happen… and what you can do about it – starting now.
I urge you to read it now.
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