From Our 2010 Archives

New Clues to How Cancer Patients' Genes Influence Treatment

THURSDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists are releasing the first results from a major study looking at how cancer patients' genes influence the success of the therapies they receive.

The findings are already confirming the role of several genes that predict the response of different types of cancer to treatment, researchers say.

The initial dataset, released July 15 by the Cancer Genome Project, describe the responses of 350 cancer samples to 18 anticancer drugs. The results are published on the Genomics of Drug Sensitivity Web site, which is freely available to cancer researchers worldwide.

The goal of the drug-sensitivity study -- a five-year collaboration between researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States -- is to identify the best treatments for many types of cancer. Researchers plan to expose about 1,000 cancer cell lines to 400 anticancer treatments, either using single-drug treatments or combinations of drugs, to determine the most effective drugs or drug combinations. The study will include drugs already in use and some that are still under development.

"Today is our first glimpse of this complex interface, where genomes meet cancer medicine. We will, over the course of this work, add to this picture, identifying genetic changes that can inform clinical decisions, with the hope of improving treatment," Dr. Andy Futreal, co-leader of the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, said in an institute news release.

"By producing a carefully curated set of data to serve the cancer research community, we hope to produce a database for improving patient responses during cancer treatment," he added.

The U.S. team involved in the study is based at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston.

The initial dataset includes the finding that deadly melanoma skin cancer with activating mutations in the BRAF gene is sensitive to drugs that target the BRAF protein, a treatment already being used on melanoma patients, the researchers pointed out in the news release.

"It is very encouraging that we are able to clearly identify drug-gene interactions that are known to have clinical impact at an early stage in the study. It suggests that we will discover many [new] interactions even before we have the full complement of cancer cell lines and drugs screened," Dr. Ultan McDermott, faculty investigator at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, explained in the news release.

"We have already studied more gene mutation-drug interactions than any previous work but, more importantly, we are putting in place a mechanism to ensure rapid dissemination of our results to enable worldwide collaborative research. By ensuring that all the drug sensitivity data and correlative analysis is freely available in an easy-to-use Web site, we hope to enable and support the important work of the wider community of cancer researchers," McDermott said.

Currently, insufficient understanding about the complexity of the interactions between cancer drugs and genes limits doctors' ability to optimize individual patient treatment, the researchers indicated.

"We need better information linking tumor genotypes to drug sensitivities across the broad spectrum of cancer [diversity], and then we need to be in position to apply that research foundation to improve patient care," Daniel Haber, director of the Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in the news release.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, news release, July 15, 2010