Lab-grown tumours able to predict drug efficacy

pharmafile | February 23, 2018 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development biotech, drugs, pharma, pharmaceutical 

One of the key challenges facing the treatment of cancer is knowing whether a particular drug will work with an individual patient. Of itself, this has led to some breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer, as treatments that specifically target gene markers have achieved success.

Researchers have now developed a method of testing drugs that could see doctors know which treatments will be successful before even beginning treatment. A collaboration between The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has seen scientists grow “mini tumours” from biopsy samples, before testing various drugs on the cells.

The scientists were able to grow cells with a 96% similarity, and were able to predict, with 100% accuracy, which patients would not respond to certain drugs. In an added benefit, this method of testing was able to predict with 88% accuracy which drugs would be effective in producing a response in patients.

The hope is that this could later be used to determine the likelihood that a particular treatment would or would not work, thereby saving the patients the side-effects of a treatment with no benefit, and time to find a more effective treatment.

It would also allow for a reduction in cost across the healthcare system, as treatments that were shown not to work in grown tumours would not be tried – with some cancer treatments being among the most expensive to purchase.

The trial was based on biopsies taken from 71 patients with bowel, stomach or bile duct cancer, which had spread to others parts of the body. In total, 55 cancer drugs were tested on the tumours that were grown, which then allowed researchers to test the lab grown tumours response with the patients’ actual response.

Study leader Dr Nicola Valeri, Team Leader in Gastrointestinal Cancer Biology and Genomics at the ICR, and a Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, said:

“Once a cancer has spread round the body and stopped responding to standard treatments, we face a race against time to find patients a drug that might slow the cancer’s progression and extend their lives. We found that recreating patients’ tumours in the laboratory using this new technique gave us an extremely promising way to predict whether a drug would work for a patient.

“We were able to look in incredible detail at how tumours responded to drugs – including patterns of gene activity and mutation, and even how the cancer would evolve in response to treatment. We looked at tumours from patients with cancers of the digestive system, but the technique could be applied to a wide variety of cancer types.”

The next step is to take the method into larger clinical trials and then determine how growing the cells would match up with a treatment timeline.

Ben Hargreaves

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