Drugs to treat cancer are expected to have a more targeted effect in future. To this end, researchers at Bayer HealthCare are analyzing the specific disease courses of individual patients in order to develop tailor-made therapies. They also receive support in the form of tumor tissue samples from patients suffering from cancer.
Every tumor is different: Cancer can originate from different kinds of cells from various organs and give rise to a wide range of malignant tumors. A detailed understanding of these differences is vital to develop more effective treatments.
Researchers at Bayer HealthCare are working together closely with the PATH (Patients' Tumor Bank of Hope) foundation, for example, which was set up by breast cancer patients with the aim of increasing the chances of recovery. PATH provides numerous tissue samples along with corresponding encoded clinical data, which forms an important basis for a better understanding of the disease and thus the development of future personalized therapies.
Personalized therapies that are matched to the molecular changes in the tumor are more likely to be effective and cause fewer side effects.
women worldwide are suffering from breast cancer.
Every tumor is different. What’s more, the disease can take very different courses, from complete recovery to rapid death. A detailed understanding of these differences is vital to develop more effective treatments that are tailor-made to the individual tumor and patient. That’s why Bayer is working together closely with the PATH (Patients’ Tumor Bank of Hope) foundation in the case of breast cancer, a disease which affects more than 1.6 million women worldwide and is still on the rise.
New Therapies Thanks to Biopsies and Clinical Data
“A few years ago, we heard about the PATH foundation. It was set up by breast cancer patients with the aim of increasing the chances of recovery,” explains Dr. Joachim Reischl, Head of Biomarker Strategy & Development at Bayer HealthCare. Working together with the PATH foundation gives the scientists access to numerous deep-frozen tissue samples along with the corresponding anonymized clinical data. This has advantages for all the parties involved. “We get biological materials and information that help us to better understand the disease and will make it possible for us to develop new drug products. At the same time, we also get a better insight into the patients’ perspective, and the PATH employees gain a better understanding of pharmaceutical research,” says Reischl. The researchers compare the clinical data with the findings of the tissue analyses to track down changes in gene sequences or proteins that are associated with specific disease courses, and chart the frequency of these changes. This forms an important basis for the development of personalized therapies that are matched to the molecular changes in the tumor. There have already been initial, promising successes: by analyzing biopsy samples donated by PATH, Dr. Marion Rudolph, Senior Biomarker Expert at Bayer HealthCare, has collated data on the frequency of a specific mutation that may play a crucial role in the development of breast cancer.
Advance testing of the individual efficacy will lead to better chances of recovery.
It is also planned to use the research findings to tailor treatments with drug products that have already been approved even more precisely to the patients in future.
Interview: Ulla Ohlms
research talked to Ulla Ohlms, Chairwoman of the breast cancer survivors-run biobank PATH, about the foundation‘s successes.
What was the idea behind the PATH foundation?
Breast cancer is now curable in most cases, and enormous therapeutic progress has been achieved. However, many patients still die from breast cancer or suffer relapses. We want to help suitable treatments to be found for these women as well.
How comprehensive is the PATH collection?
At present, we have clinical data and blood and tissue samples from approximately 7,800 breast cancer patients, and this figure is growing daily.
Have you had any initial successes?
Yes, a study by the German Cancer Research Center that we helped to launch. It has come up with one potential explanation of why some tumors develop resistances, and as such has delivered new approaches for drug development. The interaction with Bayer is likewise very close and fruitful. We have already presented the initial findings at one of the world‘s largest conferences on cancer research and the response was extremely positive. That is something we are very proud of.
Joint Collaborations for Better Drugs
An initiative launched by the European Union called the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is the world's largest alliance of research organizations, authorities and pharmaceutical manufacturers for more effective, safer drugs. Bayer is involved in over 20 of the IMI's projects including, for example, the projects OncoTrack, Cancer-ID, PROTECT and EUPATI.
The OncoTrack project, which is managed by Bayer and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and consists of an international consortium of more than 60 partners, has the primary objective to establish next generation analysis methods to improve the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Detailed molecular characterization of high quality tumor tissue will provide critical information to support the fundamental understanding of cancer and the influence of heterogeneity in response to colon cancer therapy.
The IMI project Cancer-ID, which is jointly managed by Bayer and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, aims to investigate and establish blood -based biomarker genetic tests – a kind of liquid tumor biopsy. This approach could improve not only diagnosis but also the selection of which therapeutic treatment option to choose for a particular cancer patient. Reliable biomarker analysis of blood samples taken at regular intervals would also make it easier to monitor the course of the disease as well as treatment responses and/or early signs of disease recurrence.
Another IMI-project is PROTECT, which was launched in 2009 with the aim to enhance the safety-monitoring of medicines and contribute to improve the evaluation and communication of the benefits and risks of drugs throughout their lifecycle. To this end, innovative tools and methodological standards have been developed. PROTECT is coordinated by the European Medicines Agency and manages an international consortium of 29 public and private participants.
Empowering patients to engage more effectively in the research, development and approval of new treatments is the objective of the IMI-funded EUPATI project Bayer also is engaged in. This patient-led initiative aims to develop the first European Patients’ Academy on Therapeutic Innovation (EUPATI) with training courses, educational material and an online public library. The idea is for well-informed patients to be able to contribute their experience and needs to the development of new drugs and regulatory processes as directly as possible, an important basis for a joint collaboration for better drugs.
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