The nonprofit organization Genome Canada, the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) are collaborating to develop new targeted next generation sequencing (NGS) methods to assess, and possibly improve, the management of pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer.
The three-year, $6 million project aims to standardize the use of advanced molecular biology techniques for genetic profiling in cancer, so that they become commercially available on a global scale to diagnose and treat patients.
NGS is a powerful DNA sequencing method that can analyze the entire human genome (all genes present in our DNA) in just one day.
The approach may be particularly helpful for advanced cancer patients, as those whose treatment was selected based on NGS findings lived twice as long without their disease worsening compared to patients who did not receive genetic testing, with no added health care costs.
The partnership, which will focus on the development of genome-based diagnostic tools for pancreatic cancer and targeted therapies for breast and prostate cancer, is based on prior research carried out by OICR and Thermo Fisher.
The three assays developed in the project will be put to use in patients participating in clinical trials in Ontario and other parts of Canada.
“By supporting research and clinical trials, Genome Canada is helping to put more of Ontario’s innovative cancer diagnostics research into clinical use,” John Bartlett, program director of diagnostic development at OICR, said in a press release. “This project has the potential to springboard advanced next generation sequencing to routine clinical use in Ontario and across Canada.”
Unlike other types of assays that only analyze DNA sequences, these targeted NGS assays allow researchers to get the full picture of a patient’s genetic profile by looking at DNA and RNA (the molecule that serves as a template for the production of a protein) signatures simultaneously, maximizing the chances of discovering cancer-causing mutations.
OICR and Thermo Fisher plan to take advantage of this feature by adding specific DNA/RNA stratification biomarkers for the three cancers that previously had been validated in translational studies conducted by investigators at the OICR.
This is not the first time OICR and Thermo Fisher are leading collaborations to bring scientific innovation to cancer treatment. In 2016, they worked in collaboration with other partners to design and identify genetic mutations in breast cancer and to develop the Oncomine Comprehensive Assay, a NGS-based cancer biomarker test, which has been used by the National Cancer Institute‘s Adult and Pediatric MATCH trials in the United States.
“OICR is a leader in clinical research, with extensive clinical trials in progress to improve care for patients with pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer,” said Jeff Smith, global lead of NGS precision medicine initiatives, clinical NGS and oncology for Thermo Fisher Scientific. “When OICR approached our team with the idea for this project, we saw it as another exciting opportunity to bring Thermo Fisher’s proven Ion Torrent technology to clinical laboratories across Canada and to contribute to future improvement of patient care.”
A grant from Genome Canada obtained through the Genomic Applications Partnership Program is partly funding the initiative. Genome Canada is contributing $2 million to support the project. The remaining costs, including those arising from development and validation, will be split between OICR and Thermo Fisher.