Using Cancer(s) as a Model for Advancing Personalized Medicine

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I am pleased to be attending this year’s Personalized Medicine Conference taking place this week and appreciate the opportunity to discuss why I, and many others, believe that cancer, or to be more accurate “cancers”, are an ideal model for the discovery, translation and delivery of personalized medicine.  Sheer numbers alone are reason enough to highlight the need for developing a personalized approach to cancer care: 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetime in the United States.

The sequencing of the human genome has unraveled many mysteries as to how a normal cell can go awry and become cancerous. Further understanding of not only the genetics of cancer, but also the biology and metabolism of cancer, have increased our knowledge of biologic systems that support cancer progression, and this new knowledge has been translated into novel strategies for early detection, prevention and treatment.  And yet, these new discoveries that have heightened expectations of success have, in large part, fallen short in delivering cures anticipated by society.  The reality is that we have learned that cancer is actually an array of many diseases masquerading under the single name of “cancer.”   We need to learn to embrace the complexity of this disease we call cancer and stop the attitude of tunnel vision to cure cancer, and instead focus more on caring for the patient, the individual.  National policy must promote the search for solutions, not just cures.  Ultimately by providing solutions, we will reduce, and in many cases, eliminate death and suffering due to cancer.

In order to accelerate what is a continuum of discovery, translation and delivery of personalized medicine, or in this case personalized cancer care, multiple stakeholders must come together to pursue and deliver this common goal.  These stakeholders include researchers, clinicians, administrators (including policymakers and regulators), and of course, patients themselves.  This week’s gathering of the personalized medicine community in Boston is an example of the value of physically bringing together these stakeholders, and is an important forum for the discussion, exchange of ideas, and aligning of objectives that are crucial to the advancement of personalized medicine.

Total Cancer Care: An Approach to Creating Solutions for the Advancement of Cancer Research and Improved Care

Building on the themes of this year’s event – Personalized Medicine: Impacting Healthcare – I would like to describe to you one approach to personalized cancer care that is having a significant impact on the lives of patients. Nearly eight years ago, the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., launched the Total Cancer Care™ initiative with the goal of identifying all the needs of a patient and developing a means to meet those needs.  By focusing on solutions to meet individual needs, we believed we could reduce death and suffering due to cancer, and that in order to do so we needed to develop strategic partnerships to perform the five following aims:

  1. Create a system to identify the needs of individual patients
  2. Identify markers that would predict needs and risks so that interventions could become preemptive
  3. Identify molecular signatures for patients who are not likely to respond to standard of care
  4. Utilize clinical characteristics and molecular profiling techniques to match the right patient to the right treatment at the right time and the right place
  5. Raise the standard of care for all patients by integrating new technologies in an evidenced based approach to maximize benefits and reduce costs

Critical to the pursuit of these solutions was the development of a large regional cancer biorepository in parallel with the development of a relational data warehouse and an information system containing patient’s clinical data and molecular data. 

We soon recognized that although Moffitt had a large patient population to study and engage in this endeavor, to accomplish our goal, we ultimately needed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of patients to study, and we sought the advice and support of our Florida network of hospitals and physicians.  To our pleasure, there was universal enthusiasm from our statewide colleagues to participate in what became the Total Cancer Care™ Protocol.  Dr. Tim Yeatman at Moffitt was the original Principal Investigator of this IRB- approved protocol which enrolled its first patient in 2006 and basically asked for patients’ consent to do three things:

  1. Can we follow you throughout your lifetime by collecting and storing your clinical data and information?
  2. May we study any excess tumor or normal tissue using molecular profiling techniques?
  3. May we re-contact you?

What began at Moffitt within a year had been extended to eight different communities in Florida.  Within two years, this effort expanded to nine more communities in 10 different states, for a total of 18 participating sites.  Together, the 18 different sites form the Total Cancer Care™ Consortium with the aim of informing and consenting patients to the Total Cancer Care™ Protocol.  As of November 1, 63,754 patients have consented to the Total Cancer Care™ Protocol; 21,331 tumors have been collected and stored in a high technology biorepository located at Moffitt; and 15,093 tumors have been profiled using gene expression profiling technology.  To my knowledge, this effort makes Total Cancer Care™ one of the largest, if not the largest, prospective observational studies with tumor collection in the world. 

Ultimately, our community colleagues are not only contributors to establishing the foundation of personalized cancer care, but also the beneficiaries by being able to use the information system as a clinical decision tool, and as a means of quality performance and comparative effectiveness research.

In coming weeks, I am looking forward to further discussing the role of comparative effectiveness research in Total Cancer Care ™, and how the patient is not only a participant, but also the ultimate beneficiary of everything we do.

2 Responses to “Using Cancer(s) as a Model for Advancing Personalized Medicine”

  1. The Role of Comparative Effectiveness Research in Total Cancer Care™ « The Age of Personalized Medicine Blog Says:

    […] my previous entry, I discussed how the launch of the Total Cancer Care™ initiative at Moffitt Cancer Center nearly […]

  2. The Patient as Collaborator: How Personalized Medicine is Giving Back to the Patient « The Age of Personalized Medicine Blog Says:

    […] the ultimate stakeholders in personalized medicine efforts are the patients themselves.  In Total Cancer Care™, patients are not only the ultimate beneficiary, but also the major contributor to the effort.  […]

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