Monday August 1, 2016 0 comments
By Steve Porter
LOVELAND – There’s a new approach to treating cancer and other diseases that aims to be less costly and more effective than traditional methods.
It’s called precision medicine, and it’s being viewed as the wave of the future by medical experts and others.
“It is the hot topic that we see,” said Gary Luckasen, medical director for UCHealth North, to a full house attending the Precision Summit Summit on July 29 at Medical Center of the Rockies.
“It really is a departure from where we’ve been.”
Luckasen noted that medicine’s traditional approach has been to treat people the same way, even though it’s acknowledged that people are all different genetically.
“It allows us to look at our patients a little differently and make sure they get personalized treatment both short-term and long-term,” Luckasen said.
The summit included presentations by local biotech companies recognizing the advantages of personalized medicine.
Paul Beresford, Biodesix chief business officer, said research is showing that protein biomarkers are increasingly becoming valid indicators of cancer.
“Proteins are as exciting as genes” when it comes to developing personalized treatment, Beresford said.
Beresford said his definition of precision medicine is “providing the right patient with the right treatment at the right time.”
Beresford said Biodesix is focused on lung cancer treatment, doing “deep phenotyping” to measure a patient’s serum proteins to obtain faster, more nuanced diagnoses.
Beresford noted that the stakes are high for improving cancer diagnoses and treatment, with 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses every year and about 600,000 dying from the various forms of the disease.
Chris Tompkins, CEO of KromaTiD – a Colorado State University spinout company – said his company is using cytogenetics to advance precision medicine and launched its product line last year.
“The difficulty is the genetics of cancer are not that precise,” he said. “We think our product will make an excellent test for people seeking personalized medicine.”
Steven Schuster, UCHealth North medical director, said precision medicine is “becoming the standard of care today.”
“It’s in evolution right now, and it continues to evolve,” he said. “If you look at the number of (research) abstracts presented over the last six years, you can see it’s really taking off.”
Schuster said making better use of molecular profiling and then developing more targeted drugs and other therapies holds the key to better cancer outcomes.
“If we use one (cancer) drug, we have virtually no chance for curing people,” he said.
Schuster said new technology is enabling physicians to choose therapies “based on genetic alterations that are believed to be driving the cancer’s development or serve as predictive biomarkers.”
Schuster said researchers are discovering that it’s more effective to treat patients based on their cancer’s driver mutations rather than where their tumor started.
“It drives me nuts when people come in and their cancer is treated the same way,” he said.
Schuster said UCHealth is making an $80 million investment in personalized cancer treatment. He said UCHealth currently has more than 50 clinical trials now in progress with “over half involving precision medicine.”
The trials are being conducted at sites in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley, Schuster said.
“Our mission is to provide local access to innovative cancer clinical trials and personalized care,” he said.
Schuster said he believes precision medicine holds the “promise of better cure rates with less side effects, especially long-term.”
Damon Hostin, administrative VP of precision medicine for Catholic Health Initiatives, said CHI is working to respond to Vice President Joe Biden’s call for a Cancer Moonshot program.
Hostin said while the cost of technology has been going down, there remains a “data chasm” to fill before significant progress can be made.
Hostin said a key element in precision medicine is controlling costs.
“Precision means don’t waste money on things that don’t work,” he said. “This is hard and it’s messy, and the way it’s paid for is messy.”
One potential avenue for developing new precision medicine treatments is the “Patents for Patients” program, part of the Cancer Moonshot program.
Unsu Jung, U.S. Patent Office, said the one-year pilot program offers fast-track review with the goal of cutting the time it takes to review cancer immunology review applications “by half.”
Jung said the review process is open to all individuals, universities, pharma and early-stage biotech companies.
Dana Stangel, a patent attorney based in Fort Collins, said there have been some “very, very significant changes” in patent protection for personalized medicine over the last five years.
Stangel said while new therapeutic methods and vaccines are “usually eligible” for patent protection, discoveries based on “laws of nature” are not independently eligible, and diagnostics are in a grey area.
Bottom line, Stangel said the standards for determining patent eligibility are “in flux.”
Alan Rudolph, Colorado State University VP of research, said personalized medicine is already resulting in changes in diagnostics and driving down the cost of treatment on a per-unit basis.
Tompkins said precision medicine holds the potential to give cancer patients more hope that their particular disease can be effectively treated.
“Precision medicine should make this easier – telling a patient you have a (unique) genetic mutation and we have a treatment for it,” he said.
The Precision Medicine Summit was organized by Northern Colorado Bioscience Cluster (NoCoBio) with support from Innosphere, UCHealth, CSU, CSU Ventures, the city of Fort Collins and Colorado BioScience Association.
Deanna Scott, NoCoBio director and director of bioscience at Innosphere, told those attending the summit of her own year-long battle with breast cancer.
Scott said she will be stepping down from her positions to devote more time and energy to her own cancer fight, emphasizing the need for better ways to target and overcome the disease.