The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is introducing a line of specialized, next-generation cancer tests through its Knight Diagnostic Laboratories division that tailor the benefits of advanced molecular analysis of tumors for the realities of today’s clinical care.
This new line of tests, called GeneTrails™, optimizes the diagnostic insights provided by the most advanced DNA sequencing technology, which is essential to the practice of personalized cancer medicine. Because the tests are customized largely by disease type, they are highly cost-effective to apply. The combination enables any clinic providing cancer care to deliver the benefits of sophisticated diagnostic tools used at the world’s top research centers to match patients to available targeted therapies.
GeneTrails tests work by identifying the cancer-causing mutations in a tumor that are most relevant for prescribing a clinically available therapy to target defective cells and inhibit their growth. In contrast, most molecular genotyping tests available today are designed for cancer research and aren’t practical for clinical care because much of the information gathered isn’t applicable for today’s treatments.
Equipping physicians with more information about the specific mutations driving their patient’s disease is the first step in making personalized cancer medicine a reality for all patients. Personalized, or targeted, therapies represent the future of cancer care because these treatments take into account the fact that cancer’s biological characteristics are as unique as the person the disease has impacted. Targeted therapies are designed to treat only the molecules that are enabling an individual’s cancerous cells to grow without harming healthy cells. This approach, in turn, has the potential to transform cancer into a treatable, chronic health condition.
The Knight Cancer Institute’s director, Brian Druker, M.D., pioneered molecularly targeted cancer therapy. His research, which led to the development of the drug Gleevec®, ushered in the era of personalized cancer medicine when it was approved by the FDA in 2001. Gleevec’s success has led to the development of dozens of other FDA-approved targeted therapies and even more that are in clinical trials or about to be approved. These therapies represent a huge leap forward compared with traditional cancer drugs that work by killing all fast-growing cells, which in some cases, has made the side effects of treatment as feared as the disease.
“What we know now is that there are no common cancers and medicine’s approach to treating the disease needs to be transformed,” Druker said. “With a deeper understanding of what is driving the growth of an individual patient’s disease, we can tailor-make the drugs to treat it.”
The first two tests in the GeneTrails product line are customized to detect mutations that are relevant in lung cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). Additional tests are expected in coming months, including a panel for several forms of leukemia as well as a larger screening panel for a variety of solid tumors, including skin cancers. Eventually, the labs expect to have test panels for breast and prostate cancers.
The physician-scientists behind the development of these tests have years of experience screening for hundreds of potential mutations in tumors. This experience has given the Knight Diagnostic Laboratories extensive background and data on the molecular sub-typing of cancers, which many new laboratories and tests lack.
GeneTrails represents a milestone in advancing the Knight Cancer Institute’s mission of making personalized cancer medicine a reality for all patients. It is making the tests, which were first used at the Knight Cancer Institute, available to any health care provider involved in cancer care. Along with the test results, the Knight Diagnostic Laboratories’ experts provide physicians with a thorough analysis from which a treatment plan can be designed.
“These tests make molecular testing feasible as a part of standard cancer care,” said Christopher Corless, M.D., Ph.D., chief medical officer of the Knight Diagnostic Laboratories. “It is our hope that someday soon every patient with cancer will be able to get a genetic profile of their tumor and, in turn, will be matched to a treatment that stops their disease.”
Brian Druker, M.D., is director of the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute, associate dean for oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at OHSU, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.