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Fox Chase Cancer Center Launches Institute for Personalized Medicine

Program Leverages Center’s Clinical Trials Expertise and Comprehensive Tumor Bank

Philadelphia (May 18, 2009) – In an important step towards personalized cancer treatment, Fox Chase Cancer Center has launched the Institute for Personalized Medicine, a program that will aim to match emerging targeted drug therapies to the unique genetic profiles of individual patient tumors on a much larger scale than previously possible. The goal of the new Institute is to make the one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment that dominates care today a thing of the past.

"What we think of as personalized medicine is already practiced to great effect with a tiny handful of therapeutics in certain cancers, but the Institute for Personalized Medicine has the potential to expand dramatically both the pool of available drugs and the list of eligible cancer types," says Jeff Boyd, PhD, Fox Chase's chief scientific officer. "With its proven expertise in cancer genetics and the conduct of clinical trials, Fox Chase is uniquely poised to drive this transformation."

"Within ten years, this will be the standard of care for treating cancer of all types, but today you will find it at Fox Chase," Boyd says.

The Institute for Personalized Medicine will build on Fox Chase's already substantial Biosample Repository and Tumor Bank to add a critical additional layer of new knowledge about the genetic information in individual patient tumors.  Fox Chase will also use this information to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments through collaboration with its highly regarded Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program, which tests a broad spectrum of novel cancer therapeutics in patients with advanced cancer.  The genetic information to be gathered about individual patient tumors offers the possibility of a revolution in the way cancer treatments are selected for patients in all cancer clinical trials, including Phase 1.   

Initially, the Institute will sequence the tumors of patients new to Fox Chase for a sizable number of known cancer-related genes, although Fox Chase researchers predict that whole-genome sequencing will become standard practice at the Institute in a few short years.  The genetic information that the Institute acquires now and in the future can then be used to select the most appropriate chemotherapy regimen or, for those patients lacking an effective standard regimen, a new drug being given in a phase 1 study.

According to Boyd, as basic research into cancer genetics has progressed, scientists the world over have discovered complex networks of cancer-related genes, all of which play roles in the disease.  The insight that these networks exist has also suggested that there may be critical points in the networks that, if disrupted by a targeted new therapy, could result in the death of the cancer cells.

In response to this knowledge, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, both large and small, have created novel therapies to target specific genes or sets of genes within these networks. While these drugs represent potentially life-saving therapies for specific subsets of patients, there is usually no feasible means of determining exactly who these patients are and then testing the new drugs exclusively in those patients.   If one could do that the chances of success would be higher both for the patient and for the new drug that is being tested.

One of the aims of the Institute for Personalized Medicine is to use the latest techniques and technology in gene sequencing to augment the information in the Biosample Repository with new patient tumor information.  All of the information about patients and their tumors that is contained in the Biosample Repository will help researchers match tumor types with a pool of new therapeutics waiting to be tested.

"Instead of simply enrolling patients into Phase 1 trials who have been treated with and failed to respond to every standard treatment, the information we gain in this project may allow us to determine more accurately which patients should be enrolled into which clinical trial," says Roger B. Cohen, MD, director of Fox Chase's Phase I Clinical Trials Program.  "Of course, this does not just apply to Phase 1 trials.  It potentially applies to all lines of cancer therapy, including selection of the patient's very first chemotherapy treatment."

It is already clear that the information gained through the Institute will help oncologists  across the spectrum of disease specialties, such as those who treat lung cancer, focus treatment on the actual tumor genetic profile to achieve more effective outcomes as well as avoid the side effects and costs of unnecessary therapy.

"With information from this program, we should eventually be able to choose a drug or set of drugs that will be optimally effective for that patient based on molecular analysis of an individual patient's tumor," says George Simon, MD, Fox Chase's director of Thoracic Oncology.  "We will be able to offer doctors more effective, personally tailored treatment options for their patients."

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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