Research on biomarkers for cancer and other major human diseases is advancing quickly. At the recent “Oncology Biomarkers Congress,” scientists from around the world gathered to share some of their newest biomarker research.
Besides oncology biomarkers, presenters discussed companion diagnostics, patient selection, and personalized medicine. Some of the newest cancer treatments aim to individualize the therapy to the specific type of cancer and patient. The large and growing number of different genetic alterations that researchers observe in cancer cells have made it unfeasible to test for only a handful of targets. Instead, clinical testing is moving toward testing for many targets simultaneously.
“This approach of multiplexed tumor genotyping allows for the simultaneous evaluation of a broad range of common and rare tumor alterations,” said Darrell Borger, Ph.D., director of biomarker and co-director of translational research laboratories at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. “This is important for expanding the application of targeted therapy across a greater number of patients who undergo testing, and directing those patients into the most relevant clinical trials.”
Dr. Borger and colleagues are uncovering “molecular signatures of tumors,” or collections of targets present in specific tumor types. “A molecular signature of a tumor is in essence a map of the abnormalities within a particular tumor that are thought to be critical in driving the disease process,” said Dr. Borger. “We know that each tumor will have a unique combination of genetic alterations.”
These signatures are useful because the ability to genotype a certain kind of cancer can help find the most effective treatment possible. “The more comprehensive the tumor profiling, the more detailed the roadmap we can draw for directing that patient’s care,” Dr. Borger said.
Uncovering the molecular signatures of tumors has another important role—to better understand the differences among cells within the same tumor. “Tumor heterogeneity is an important mechanism of emerging drug resistance,” said Dr. Borger. “Broad-based tumor profiling and the use of sensitive testing platforms are essential in identifying these potential mechanisms of disease resistance, so that targeted approaches can be aimed at circumventing those mechanisms.”