News Headline: Genomics Boosting Cancer War
Outlet Full Name: San Diego Union Tribune
Author: Bradley J. Fikes
The decades-old war against cancer has found a new ally in the science of genomics, a top cancer researcher said Wednesday night.
Plumbing the depths of the human genome allows medicine to find the precise molecular cause of each person’s cancer, said oncologist Razelle Kurzrock, of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. Kurzrock directs UCSD Moores’s Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy.
A better diagnosis helps doctors find better treatments, Kurzrock said, speaking at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Moreover, this knowledge explains why some cancers, such as lung cancer, have been so hard to treat: The traditional diagnosis of cancer by organ of origin is faulty.
“Lung cancer is not one disease, it’s multiple diseases, each defined by a different molecular genetic aberration,” Kurzrock said.
Following that logic puts cancer drugs, which often have a low level of efficacy, in a new light. The drugs are often ineffective because they’re not matched to the genetic driver.
“It doesn’t matter how good the drugs are, if you give them to the wrong patient, it’s not going to work,” she said.
A physician/scientist recruited last year from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Kurzrock was named senior director for clinical science.
The center adds genomic analysis to the standard care cancer patients already get, Kurzrock said. This combination started only about a year ago, is a new concept throughout the world.
The sequencing of the first human genome in 2000 was followed by extraordinary feats of technology that dropped the cost of sequencing from many millions to about $5,000 now Kurzrock said. With cheaper and faster sequencing, the hidden molecular machinery of cancer can now be exposed routinely.
Watching the cancer adapt almost in real time helps doctors get ahead of the cancer’s path. They can plan treatments to control, and in many cases, eradicate the tumor.
To take full advantage of this knowledge, cancer treatment will need to begin earlier, Kurzrock said. By acting as soon as the molecular signals of an incipient cancer are detected, treatment can begin when the cancer is less complicated to deal with.
“Waiting until the patient is end-stage is just waiting too long to introduce breakthrough technologies,” Kurzrock said.
However, she added that even late-stage patients in which the cancer has spread and has developed multiple mutations can get substantial relief for a period of time with treatments that attack the most dangerous mutations.
Genomics isn’t the only area of promise. In a question-and answer session after the talk, moderator Charles Redfern said immunotherapy has been yielding surprises. Immune suppression is known to be part of some cancers, which can evade the body’s immune system despite their profound genetic changes.
New research indicates that some kinds of lung cancer are induced by immune suppression. Redfern said he had previously been convinced that lung cancer was mainly caused by carcinogens from smoking, and the case was closed.
“I’m pretty blown away by that,” Redfern said. “I never expected that.”
Kurzrock was the second speaker in a series on cancer from UC San Diego Extension and the Center for Ethics in Science & Technology. The series, which continues through next spring, is organized around a recent book, “The Emperor of All Maladies.”
The book tracks the impact of cancer throughout history, and gives new ideas of what the disease really is.
The next talk is scheduled for Feb. 5 at the auditorium of The Scripps Research Institute. The speaker is Patrick Soon-Shiong, a doctor who became a billionaire biotech entrepreneur. The talk is free and open to the public.