Monday, June 6, 2011

"Major Shift in War on Cancer"

This is the headline of an article in today's (June 6 2011) Wall Street Journal regarding the 2011 ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncologist) conference currently being held in Chicago at the McCormick Place conference center. There are about 25,000 attendees. Although traveling is a challenge for me, I am here as a patient research advocate volunteer and am honored and somewhat humbled to be one of those in attendance.

The WSJ article goes on to say, and I quote...

"New research is signaling a major shift in how cancer drugs are developed and patients are treated—offering the promise of personalized therapies that reach patients faster and are more effective than other medicines.

At the heart of the change: an emerging ability for researchers to use genetic information to match drugs to the biological drivers of tumors in individuals."

Here are some of the highlights from my perspective based on people I met, presentations attended, and the overall conference materials:
  • About 30% of the several hundred large presentations are on a deeper understanding of the genetics within many different cancers... head & neck, lung, ovarian, breast, melanoma, etc. In sessions I attended there is a focus on finding combinations of mutant genes which lead to cancer (or a prediction of cancer) versus a prior focus of finding one single gene mutation. Finding these gene combinations is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, but large teams of medical doctors, molecular biologists, and other researchers across cancer institutions and international boundaries are attacking focused research and making progress.  
  • I spent an afternoon meeting with drug company representatives. The larger companies like GSK, Abbot Laboratories, Genentech, Pfizer, etc have 1,000 square foot plus exhibition spaces. Most of them have a subset space for discussions on current research staffed by highly knowledgeable researchers and molecular biologists. This resource allocation confirmed for me the conference’s focus on finding cures through deeper genetic understanding.
  • About 20% of the exhibition space was dedicated to companies specializing is what appeared to be the most current technologies and biology's available for genetic mutation detection. The cost of testing is falling rapidly. There are three primary testing techniques. Single gene testing costs begin at about one hundred dollars while testing an individual’s entire genome is about ten thousand dollars. Elapse time for gene testing from patient consent to results has been shortened, but is still a 3 to 4 week process.
  • Researchers are beginning to test genetic defects across cancer types. This is the paradigm shift I wrote about in my prior blog entry. It is too early to know what fruit this will bear.
  • Multi drug cocktails are resulting in evidence-based patient benefits.
  • Genetic testing is still part art and part science. Testing methods and processes are being refined and as these refinements are put into practice better data will lead to quicker and more accurate results.
  • Genetic mutations are complex. There are missing gene pieces and gene mismatches. Some gene mutations promote tumor grow while other gene mutations affect genes which, when working properly, inhibit tumor growth. The downstream effect of promotion and inhibiting have very different biological effects that can affect many (up to about 100) cell processes. This is one of the factors that make finding a cure, even after finding a mutation, so complex.

It is hard to summarize this annual gathering of the world’s leading oncologists. My takeaway is a true sense of breakthroughs, progress, and an excitement from the participants about winning the war on cancer. For some patients it will come too late; for others it will mean the difference between life and death.

Take care everyone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very exciting work, and so glad you went and saw for yourself what advances are being made and the hope that is on the horizon. you will make a great patient advocate!