Current Challenges in Oncology and the need for Personalized Medicine:
A major challenge for basic research in oncology is its application – otherwise known as “translation” – to clinical science and the ability to help patients suffering from cancer. The past 20 years have witnessed an explosion in our understanding of the cellular pathways that initiate cancer and in the creation of tools that can help move this knowledge into the clinic.
The discovery and development of new anticancer therapies have also dramatically evolved during this time. Increased knowledge of cancer signaling mechanisms have resulted in a new generation of therapeutic drugs, targeted to specific malfunctions in cancer cells. Advances in drug development technologies have improved predictability of drug safety and in pharmacological profiles. Yet, despite these improvements, a major bottleneck in the path to new drug approval in oncology remains the ability to predict patients that best respond to targeted therapies.
In particular, recognizing that individual cancers are very complex diseases and that not all patients can be treated equally, has hastened the need to use the concept of “personalized medicine” for more effective treatment options. To that end, the Laboratory for Therapeutic Development (LTD) in Cancer was recently created at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC) in order to help translate the basic research expertise of GCRC and McGill scientists into better treatment outcomes for cancer patients, with a particular emphasis on personalized medicine.
Goals of The Laboratory for Therapeutic Development:
The aim of the LTD is to create platforms that will allow GCRC scientists to conduct high impact translational research projects funded by grants or through commercial collaborations, employing methodologies and record-keeping consistent with regulatory, clinical and commercial expectations. A key element of these projects will be the inclusion of clinical oncologists at early stages, helping to focus the research on clear clinical objectives. The first major initiative of the LTD has been launched, involving the collaboration between 9 GCRC scientists and outside clinicians and seeded by grants from CQDM and Génome Québec for over $3.5MM. This project, to create an Integrated Platform for Synthetic Lethality in Cancer Therapy, is exploiting genome wide analyses to improve treatment outcomes. The platform is designed, for example, to identify novel biomarkers that will allow clinicians to select patients within a given cancer in order that they stand a better chance of responding to therapy or who might benefit from an alternative therapy. The platform will also identify improved combinations of drugs, increasing treatment benefits for patients. Finally, knowledge derived from this platform will help guide the clinical development of new experimental drugs, improving their chance of success within a shorter time frame.
Additional funding is being aggressively pursued to maximize the benefit of this approach and to allow the LTD to interact with oncologists throughout McGill. As resources and space become available, additional Translation Platforms will be incorporated, expanding the scope and impact of the Laboratory’s activities.