For patients with advanced stage cancer, time is life.
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has joined 13 of the nation's top cancer research centers in the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network® (ORIEN), a collaboration to accelerate clinical development and discovery of treatments for advanced-stage cancers.
The unique initiative brings together physicians, patients, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and cutting edge technologies to share information that could fast track research into new treatments. HudsonAlpha will focus its high-throughput genetic sequencing capabilities to sequence 20,000 cancer samples for the ORIEN Avatar program over the next three years.
Shawn Levy, PhD
"We have just begun whole exome and RNA sequencing for the first 100 samples. As batches are completed, the genetic sequence of each individual cancer, as well as the unique genetic profile of each patient, will be posted in a database that is accessible to every cancer center collaborating in the program," HudsonAlpha Genomic Services Lab director Shawn Levy, PhD, said.
Searching through a wide range of both solid tumors and blood-based cancer cells, the HudsonAlpha genomics team will be working to detect genetic disturbances and mutations that could be triggering malignancies or influencing the course of the disease in each patient. As the program progresses, data will be updated to look for patterns in how patients with a specific genetic profile respond to new drugs in clinical trials.
"One of the important principles of the ORIEN Avatar program is unifying methodologies so everyone is following a common protocol that allows data to be combined and accessed so it is consistent and can be used by any research center participating in the effort," Levy said.
"Another key element is matching patients to therapeutic clinical trials on a national basis," Levy said. "For example, if we have a breast cancer patient and find genetic patterns in her cancer cells that are more like those usually found in lung cancer, we may want to look at getting her into a trial for a drug that is showing effectiveness in lung cancers with a similar genetic pattern.
"Most of all, the program is about rapid learning. ORIEN researchers share new information across the network and we continue to update our methodologies as we learn. Researchers in multiple centers don't have to waste time and money covering the same ground. When one research center discovers something new, researchers working with similar situations in other centers can immediately begin to retest that new information in their own work to see if they get a similar response."
ORIEN was founded in 2014 by the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The alliance of cancer research centers includes City of Hope, USC, Rutgers, Dartmouth, Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine, Jackson Foundation in Bethesda, the Universities of Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, and Huntsman in Salt Lake. The alliance is likely to expand as work progresses.
Together, ORIEN institutions have built the world's largest cancer database, with more than 140,000 patients committing to lifetime study. By studying the patient--and not just the cancer--researchers are hoping to better understand the disease and how to best treat it. Sequencing to understand the genetic makeup of cancer cells as well as the unique genetic profile of the patient should help in the development of targeted therapies and the launch of new clinical trials.
The Avatar project is being coordinated by the bioinformatics resources of M2Gen through the Moffitt Center. M2Gen founder William Dalton, MD, PhD, said "The ORIEN Avatar Research Program represents a collaboration to drive new discoveries and shorten clinical development timelines by matching patients to trials. The sequencing capabilities of HudsonAlpha will help accelerate the development of life-saving treatments."
At a time when Washington is gathering resources to launch a Cancer Moon Shot to find more effective ways to fight deadly malignancies, the Orion Avatar program should be a booster in making precision-based cancer therapies a reality for more patients.
HudsonAlpha's genomic expertise is helping to create a new era of personalized medicine in cancer care and in new therapies for a broad spectrum of diseases. By looking into the cell itself, the Huntsville-based biotech non-profit is shedding light on insights that could impact the health of millions.