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    Entries by Admin (25)


    In Personalized Cancer Care, GeneKey Goes Beyond the Foundations

    An excellent article describing GeneKey's process was published in Clinical Informatics News this last Friday by science reporter Aaron Krol.

    In Personalized Cancer Care, GeneKey Goes Beyond the Foundations



    GeneKey's Dr. Raphael Lehrer Presents at International Conference On Cancer Genomics

    On Saturday, Jan 11th, GeneKey’s Chief Scientist Dr. Raphael Lehrer presented to an international audience at the Tianjin University Cancer Institute's Genomics Forum in Tianjin, China.  Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute & Hospital is one of the largest cancer hospitals in China, and has recently launched its own personalized genomics initiative

    Dr. Lehrer discussed the application of genomic testing in personalized cancer diagnosis and treatment, and also spoke with reporters about Tianjin’s role in bringing cutting-edge technology into patient care. An English language news report on the conference by CCTV NEWS reporter Su Yuting (including a brief interview with Dr. Lehrer) may be viewed below. 


    Wall Street Journal Article on The Genomic Revolution Reflects the Importance of Patient Self-Education and Self-Advocacy

    Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article (Gene Breakthroughs Spark a Revolution in Cancer Treatment) explores the breathtaking progress in cancer treatment, while also demonstrating the critical need for patient self-education, empowerment, and discernment in this changing medical environment. The article follows the story of Kellie Carey, who successfully self-advocated her way to truly cutting-edge cancer care. Roy Herbst, Chief of Medical Oncology at Yale Cancer Center, sums up the state of genomic testing quite well: “A lot of places can tell you they do this now, but few really have the people in place who know what to do.”

    Even among those who do "know what to do", the depth and sophistication of the testing varies: from the single gene tests described in the article, to the 200-gene panel briefly mentioned, to the full systems-biology analyses of the entire genome (20,000+ genes) and its expression products that GeneKey performs.

    Currently it is often up to the patient to research the emerging science, to identify appropriate testing, and to advocate for its use. In doing so, patients must also differentiate between rudimentary genetic tests and  sophisticated genomic analyses and make an informed choice appropriate to their situation. While this learning curve may seem intimidating, the article’s Ms. Carey could certainly attest that doing the proper research and taking an aggressive role in one’s treatment can make a world of difference.

    The full article can be found here:
    Gene Breakthroughs Spark a Revolution in Cancer Treatment


    Statins and Aspirin May Help to Control Certain Cancers

    A retrospective study of 554 endometrial cancer patients shows a significant 84% reduction in mortality among patients taking statins and aspirin, and a 45% reduction in mortality among those taking statins alone.

    Statins are generally used in cardiovascular disease, though we have previously noted their potential application in certain cancers. You can view a brief discussion of the use of statins in colon cancer in our interview with William Shatner's Moving America Forward (the discussion happens at 8:10 on the video, and the full footage can be seen here). This news exemplifies why we consider thousands of FDA approved drugs to address the problems we find in our patients cancer cells, rather than limiting our search to those therapies currently appreciated as having a role in cancer.


    Sorafenib (Nexavar) Nearly Doubles Progression-Free Survival in Metastatic Thyroid Cancer

    Sorafenib was originally approved for kidney cancer, then liver cancer.  GeneKey scientists were the first to identify its use in melanoma patients who failed BRAF inhibitors.  Now sorafenib has been found to be effective against radioactive iodine (RAI)-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer, and is poised to become the first new drug to be approved in this indication in over 40 years.  Results presented at the recent ASCO conference showed a near-doubling of progression-free survival compared to placebo, from 5.8 months to 10.8 months.

    While surprising to some, it is quite common for existing therapies to prove useful in new indications, and our researchers have often found potentially effective drugs for an individual patient’s cancer outside the standard treatment regimens for their type of cancer.  Sometimes it is a drug from another type of cancer, as in the case of Sorafenib.  Other times it is a drug that was not originally developed for cancer at all (as, for example, with statins).

    The biochemistry of individual cancers is so varied that we expect to find vast differences in optimal treatment approach within the same disease – and yet because a given cellular mechanism of cancer is often at play in a variety of cancers, there is great therapeutic cross-over potential from one disease to another.  For each of our patients, we are dedicated to finding a therapy that targets the exact issues that appear to be driving their cancer, rather than the issues expected in their disease type. 

    Full Coverage:


    FDA Approves Trametinib for Metastatic Melanoma

    The FDA has approved its first MEK inhibitor, GSK’s trametinib (Mekinist), for metastatic melanoma. This is clearly great news for melanoma patients, but the potential benefit extends far beyond the treatment of melanoma.  Genes such as MEK, which are implicated in one type of cancer, are often important to others cancer types as well. A clue can be seen in a second piece of recent news: pazopanib (Votrient), a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, was found to increase progression-free survival in ovarian cancer by almost six months. Notably, pazopanib was originally approved for kidney cancer.

    The trametinib and pazopanib headlines represent two distinct but very complimentary forms of progress in the fight against cancer; the development and approval of new therapies, and repurposing, the discovery of new applications for existing therapies. While repurposing has been practiced for decades (usually by serendipity), recent genomic advances have made it possible for therapies to be repurposed in a radically different way: rationally and on a patient-by-patient basis. As an example, if an individual patient’s cancer is analyzed and found to be dependent on MEK, trametinib may become a promising therapeutic option for that patient, even if the disease is not melanoma.

    GeneKey’s is thrilled by the news of trametinib’s approval, and the promise that this drug holds in melanoma and potentially other cancers as well. We look forward to helping oncologists and their patients leverage this new weapon in the war against cancer.

    Full Coverage:


    Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy Puts Genomic Testing In the Spotlight

    Cancer genomics have featured prominently in the news this week:

    1. Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy has ignited a conversation about genomic risk testing. Jolie decided to undergo the double mastectomy procedure after testing positive for a BRCA mutation. For those who may wonder about BRCA testing for themselves or loved ones, Dr. Jennifer Ashton presents an excellent primer on when testing is appropriate and what options exist for those who test positive:
    2. A 53-year old London man made headlines for choosing to undergo prostatectomy, also because of a BRCA mutation. Commentary has focused on the similarity to the Jolie case, though it is important to note that his was not a purely preventative procedure – microscopic signs of malignancy were found in his prostate prior to removal. It is unlikely that either the mutation or the microscopic malignancies would have been enough reason to undego the procedure without the other:
    3. Finally, the UK is piloting the use of a panel of predictive biomarkers for cancer patients. The program, called “Mainstreaming Cancer Genetics”, will offer an Illumina panel of 97 genes known to influence cancer predisposition. The test is being piloted in a small subset of cancer patients, with plans to eventually extend testing to all cancer patients. Interestingly, there is no initial focus on offering the test to healthy individuals for predictive purposes:
    One major commonality in these stories is that the genomic testing involved is a predisposition test – that is to say, testing for genes carried in a person’s normal cells which may make cancer more likely to develop. Predisposition testing can be a useful tool in weighing health decisions for cancer prevention and for aggressiveness of treatment if cancer does develop. Still, for existing cases of cancer, the most relevant information for treatment is not to be found in the patient’s healthy cells (the focus of predisposition testing), but in the cancer cells themselves, revealing how they became cancerous, what is driving their proliferation, and what therapies can stop them. For nearly all of our patients, identifying actionable therapeutic targets has involved leveraging full-genomic data on a patient’s cancer cells as well as their normal cells.
    Nonetheless, we are glad to see growing awareness of the role of genomics in cancer, and are particularly glad to see the introduction of genomic analysis into the UK’s National Health System, as an important step in mainstreaming more comprehensive genomic analysis, both in the UK, and across the globe.

    Myriad Broadens Its Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancers

    Myriad Genetics announced last week that it would be launching a new cancer panel, called myRisk Hereditary Cancer. The panel is designed to replace Myriad’s BRACAnalysis, and represents a significant increase in diagnostic scope – whereas BRACAnalysis tested for mutations in only two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), the new panel will initially test for mutations in 25 genes known to influence cancer risk, and will undoubtedly grow over time.

    Myriad's announcement underscores a more general shift toward understanding and treating cancer as a complex, multi-genetic disease. More importantly, it reflects a growing capacity across the industry to leverage more comprehensive genomic data to the patient’s benefit.

    At GeneKey,we were founded on the belief that taking the broadest possible view of dysfunction in cancer cells will ultimately yield the most precise and actionable result. Our platform currently incorporates whole genome scans, RNA expression and copy number variation, covering more than 30,000 genes. We rapidly incorporate new technologies as they become available and are validated to remain at the cutting edge of science.

    Full coverage of Myriad's announcement can be found on GenomeWeb. A free subscription is required to view the article:


    GeneKey To Present at Inaugural Clinical Genomics for Cancer Management Conference in Boston

    We are excited to be presenting at the first ever Clinical Genomics for Cancer Management conference!  Cambridge Healthtech’s Inaugural Clinical Genomics for Cancer Management meeting will take place in Boston on September 23-24, and will examine novel diagnostic tools and techniques, evaluate their benefit to patient outcome, and focus on steps to implementation.  The conference brings together many excellent speakers from across academia and industry and looks to be a phenomenal event.

    Program agenda may be found at


    William Shatner's "Moving America Forward" Explores GeneKey's Technology

    The latest episode of William Shatner's "Moving America Forward" features an informative discussion with Dr. Raphael Lehrer about GeneKey's genomic cancer analysis and how it is being used by patients and their oncologists to identify better treatment options for their cancer. The interview is an excellent resource for those wishing to learn more about GeneKey's pioneering work in personalized oncology. 


    Great Article on Patient-Driven Genomics

    A recent BioWorld article examines the growing trend of patient-driven genomics in cancer. Patients can now pay to have their own genomic data sequenced, but as the article explains, the real challenge comes after sequencing: "The problem is not the technology - it’s the resulting vast quantity of information. For the most part, we don’t know how to interpret it or what to do with it."

    Ad-hoc post-sequencing analysis is a massive undertaking. For Luke Wartman, the article's only success story, it took an academic laboratory and team of scientists working full-time to make meaning of his genomic data.

    At GeneKey, our successes have required similar effort - every patient we serve has a dedicated team of scientists engaged in novel research to uncover targetable mechanisms for that patient. We also go well beyond sequencing, using multiple genomic technologies to generate a more comprehensive view of their cancer. It is worth noting that the crucial piece of information leading to Wartman's discovery was not found in his DNA sequence, but in supplementary RNA-level data.

    Patients and oncologists will continue to look to individualized genomic discovery when current treatment standards fail them, and generally this is a good thing - in addition to identifying promising treatments for the patient, this type of research often generates novel scientific discoveries that drive the entire field forward. Nonetheless, patients seeking to find a successful treatment must understand that data-generation alone is unlikely to yield fruit. Substantial and sophisticated analysis will be needed to make their genomic data actionable.

    The full article can be found here.


    Cancer-Associated Mutations Discovered in Non-Coding DNA

    A publication out of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute today identified two new cancer-associated mutations in the so-called “junk DNA” – in the promoter region of the TERT gene.  They collectively occur in 71% of melanoma patients, and the percentage of time they occur in other types of cancer is still unknown.

    This publication is a great example of why we use multiple technologies to analyze a patient's genome – the impact of this finding, as well as other similar ones yet to be discovered, is already in our analysis.  This is because the impact of these mutations is to increase the rate at which RNA associated with the TERT gene is being produced.  Because we look at RNA data directly, we can, and do, observe the increase in production of TERT directly. 

    There are likely many undiscovered promoter mutations. Since our analysis incorporates both RNA- and DNA-based technologies, the impact of such mutations is already included in our analysis – even when the mutation is rare, or perhaps unique to the patient.

    Research Abstract
    News Article


    USA Today's Special Feature on Beating Cancer

    USA today's weekend edition included a dedicated 14-page special section on Beating Cancer. The insert acknowledges the tremendous advancements that researchers and scientists have made, and sheds light on recent innovations, inspiring survival stories and organizations who are truly making a difference. You can check it out here!


    New York Times' story captures essence of GeneKey strategy

    A dramatic story in the New York Times details the saga of a young cancer scientist stricken with leukemia, whose lab colleagues pulled out all the stops, using the latest genomic technologies in a race to save his life. Their efforts led them to a previously unreported genetic target and a drug that, to their immense surprise and relief, proved effective.
    The article describes in detail an approach virtually identical to the one we pioneered at GeneKey:

    Dr. Ley’s team tried a type of analysis that they had never done before. They fully sequenced the genes of both his cancer cells and healthy cells for comparison, and at the same time analyzed his RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA, for clues to what his genes were doing.

    The researchers on the project put other work aside for weeks, running one of the university’s 26 sequencing machines and supercomputer around the clock. And they found a culprit — a normal gene that was in overdrive, churning out huge amounts of a protein that appeared to be spurring the cancer’s growth.

    Even better, there was a promising new drug that might shut down the malfunctioning gene — a drug that had been tested and approved only for advanced kidney cancer. Dr. Wartman became the first person ever to take it for leukemia.

    And now, against all odds, his cancer is in remission and has been since last fall.

    At GeneKey, our full-genome analyses of patients' tumors have in nearly every case turned up novel targets and promising drugs that the patients' doctors would not otherwise have considered. The New York Times article notes that "Researchers differ about how soon the method, known as whole genome sequencing, will be generally available and paid for by insurance — estimates range from a few years to a decade or so."
    That's the one point upon which we respectfully disagree. The method is already available to patients today at GeneKey.

    The Rise of Precision Medicine

    Looks like "precision medicine" has replaced "personalized medicine" as the term of the day to describe therapeutic strategies based on molecular and genomic diagnostics. It's a good description of what we do at GeneKey: using advanced genomic and systems biology methods to understand the biological mechanisms driving an individual patient's cancer, and applying that knowledge to come up with treatment options that target those mechanisms as precisely as the current technology allows. Precision medicine is generating news at the ongoing meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (June 1-5, 2012). OncologySTAT provides an overview of the important trends and discoveries that are being discussed. A free subscription is required to read the full story. Here's are some highlights

    Click to read more ...


    New Melanoma Drug Nearly Doubles Survival

    A new melanoma drug nearly doubled survival time for metastatic melanoma in more than half of the patients who participated in a Phase 2 clinical trial. The drug, vemurafenib, known commercially as Zelboraf, was approved last year to treat melanoma. It targets a genetic variant of melanoma carrying the V600 mutation in a gene called BRAF. About half of melanoma patients have this form of the cancer.

    The trial found that out of 132 patients enrolled in the trial, 47 percent had a partial response to the drug and six percent exhibited a complete response, for a total response rate of 53 percent. Overall survival was nearly 16 months – far longer than the typical survival of just six to 10 months for most patients whose melanoma has metastasized beyond the initial tumor site.

    Results from the trial, led by co-principal investigators Jeffrey Sosman, M.D., director of the Melanoma Program and co-leader of the Signal Transduction Program at VICC, and Antoni Ribas, M.D., professor of Hematology/Oncology at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, were published in the Feb. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

    “This study confirms what we have discovered in our earlier trials." said Sosman. "Many of our patients are exhibiting a strong, immediate response to this drug and some are living significantly longer, with manageable side effects.” He added, “It was interesting to note that a few of the patients were treated with the drug for up to six months before showing convincing evidence of response.”

    “This study shows that Zelboraf changes the natural history of the disease,” said Ribas. “These results tell us that this drug is having a very big impact, and this changes the way we treat metastatic melanoma.”

    While these results are cause of optimism, most melanoma patients treated with vemurafenib eventually see their tumor develop resistance to the drug. GeneKey has analyzed such resistant tumors and discovered potential mechanisms and drugs that might help overcome resistance. Further investigation is currently under way.


    GenomeWeb takes note of GeneKey

    This recent GenomeWeb article does a fine job of explaining our services and how we are different from other genomic, personalized oncology products currently on the market. Key points include how GeneKey takes a systems biology approach to gain insight into how a patient's tumor cells are different from his or her normal cells. These biological differences are not limited to mechanisms that drive tumor growth but may potentially expose how the tumor is keeping itself alive. We then apply this information to identify additional drugs that might be considered. The article notes that another unique aspect of GeneKey's services is "deep, in-person consultation with a patient's physician; and ongoing support for therapeutic decision making."


    GeneKey Sees Breadth of Cancer Genome Advisory Service as Differentiator in Rapidly Growing Market 


    American Society of Clinical Oncology Issues Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer

    (NewsWise - Released December 5, 2011) The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) today released Clinical Cancer Advances 2011: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer, an independent review of the advances in cancer research that have had the greatest impact on patient care this year. The report also identifies the most promising trends in oncology and provides insights from experts on where the future of cancer care is heading.

    “We’ve made significant strides in clinical cancer research over the past year and this report adds renewed hope for patients,” said Nicholas J. Vogelzang, MD, Co-Executive Editor of the report. “More personalized treatment approaches and advances in early detection are helping patients live longer, healthier lives. But we must improve the nation’s clinical research system and expand access to quality cancer care to accelerate the pace of progress.”

    This year’s top research advances demonstrate new therapies for reducing cancer recurrence, progress made against hard-to-treat cancers, and improvements in cancer prevention and screening. The report also highlights several new drug approvals that bring smarter, more effective therapies to specific genetic subgroups of patients with cancer. The top five advances selected by the editors are:


    • A Phase III study finding that vemurafenib (Zelboraf), which targets a common mutation in melanoma in a gene called BRAF, improved overall survival in patients with advanced melanoma when compared to standard chemotherapy
    • A large national screening trial of more than 50,000 current and former heavy smokers that found three annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans reduced the death rate from lung cancer by 20 percent compared to those who were screened with three annual chest X-rays
    • FDA approvals on therapies for two hard-to-treat cancers:
      • Crizotinib (Xalkori) was approved for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer who harbor a specific type of alteration in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene based on the results from two Phase II studies: one study demonstrated that 50 percent of patients experienced complete or partial tumor shrinkage for a median of 10 months and a second study found a 61 percent objective response rate lasting a median of 12 months
      • Ipilimumab (Yervoy) – an immune therapy that activates the immune system’s T cells – was approved for patients with previously untreated metastatic melanoma based on the results of a Phase III trial showing that the drug, combined with the standard chemotherapy drug dacarbazine, improved overall survival by two months
    • The first conclusive evidence that an aromatase inhibitor reduced the risk of a first breast cancer, making exemestane (Aromasin) a preventative treatment option for postmenopausal women who are at high risk for the disease


    Selected by an 18-person editorial board of prominent oncologists, the report highlights a total of 54 advances in clinical oncology over the past year and covers the full scope of patient care, including cancer disparities, advanced cancer care and survivor care. Clinical Cancer Advances 2011 also features a “Year in Review” section, which describes key cancer policy developments and ASCO policy initiatives from the past year that are likely to influence cancer care over the coming years.

    Read more.


    Genetic sequencing to match cancer patients to clinical trials

    The genomic approaches pioneered by GeneKey are starting to make inroads at some leading academic cancer centers. For example, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and Michigan Center for Translational Pathology (MCTP) announced in a press release today that it had "recently completed a pilot study aimed at solving the practical challenges involved in quickly and systematically sequencing genetic material from patients with advanced or treatment-resistant cancer in order to match them with existing clinical trials based on the biomarkers identified."

    Large cancer centers have been slowed by the challenges of scaling genetic sequencing to hundreds and thousands of patients. In addition, they limit their analysis to known cancer mutations with associated approved drugs and clinical trials for specified tumor types.

    In contrast, GeneKey analyzes not only the mutations but also any biological process that is abnormal in the tumor samples. We then search thousands of approved compounds, not just cancer therapies, for drugs that target those abnormal processes.


    Is MY Cancer Different? - birth of a movement

    At last, here's a national movement to raise awareness among cancer patients about the importance of individualized strategies to treat cancer. Launched at the end of September, the "Is MY Cancer Different" campaign educates patients to ask their doctors if molecular diagnostics and targeted therapies are appropriate for their disease. The campaign describes itself as "A movement dedicated to educating everyone on how a simple question can make a huge difference in the fight against cancer."

    The campaign is picking up traction among patient advocates who know from personal experience how important it is to tailor treatment to the individual disease. "Since the day I was diagnosed, I've heard it said a million times that each person's cancer experience is different. It turns out that each person's cancer is different too - on a molecular level," writes cancer survivor and advocate Debbie Woodbury on her blog Where We Go Now. "Asking the question takes the management of your cancer to the next level."

    "Although this information wasn't around when I was going through my treatments I did benefit from personalized molecular-level diagnostics," recalls another cancer survivor on his blog, Aaron Outward. "I had a molecular abnormality in my leukemia called the philadelphia chromosome in which I was given a designer drug to specifically target that abnormality during the course of my treatment." 

    The Is My Cancer Different? website offers fact-sheets about personalized cancer diagnostics and therapies, as well as a trove of educational videos such as this one.

    The site's goal is to get 1 million people in 1 million minutes to share the site via social media. Tell us what you think about the movement for "Is My Cancer Different?"