An Ambitious Plan for Understanding Cancer
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) recently announced an exciting study designed to understand how and why patients respond differently to treatments in multiple myeloma. Multiple Myeloma is a type of blood cancer for which about 20,000 new cases are diagnosed every year in the United States alone. The five-year survival rate is anywhere between 40-70%, depending on how early the disease is caught. There are a variety of treatments including therapeutics and stem cell transplants, but not all patients respond to treatment.
The MMRF was involved in funding a pilot study that used next-generation sequencing technologies on multiple myeloma. The results of that study, which looked at 38 patients, were published in March in the journal Nature. They found a number of recurrent mutations in the cancer cells from different patients. This is a promising result as it indicates that there could be subtypes of the disease that might be appropriate for targeted therapies.
This new study, called CoMMpass, will enroll 1,000 patients and apply next-generation sequencing technologies to look further at the molecular basis for the disease. These technologies are becoming affordable enough that complete sequencing of DNA and RNA from large cohorts of cancer patients has become feasible. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) are beginning to apply these techniques to many different cancer types.
But what separates the MMRF's effort from those projects is their commitment to following patients over longer periods of time and capturing the rich clinical data that is available with frequent follow-ups. TCGA and ICGC both capture some clinical data from the patients who they sequence, but it is typically limited to the specific point in time when the samples were gathered. The MMRF study will keep in touch with patients for at least 5 years so that their progress can be tracked as they are treated. This will make it possible to find connections between their different responses to treatments and potential relapses, and the molecular changes in DNA and RNA in their cancer cells.
I hope we see more of this type of study in the future. I suspect that the combination of a large number of patients, detailed molecular information and comprehensive clinical data will shed light on cancers of all types.
-Will FitzHugh, 5AM Solutions
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