UW Carbone Cancer Center: To play key role in nationwide precision-medicine effort

CONTACT: Susan Lampert Smith

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CHICAGO, Ill. – A UW Carbone Cancer Center scientist is leading part of a unique national effort to match cancers to drugs based on their genes and not on where in the body the cancers begin.

Dr. Kari Wisinski, breast -cancer oncologist, will lead one arm of the National Cancer Institute’s NCI-MATCH trial, which was announced today at the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

The trial is for adults with a wide variety of cancers, including some rare cancers, solid tumors and lymphomas. It will begin enrolling patients in July, and will test up to 3,000 people whose cancer has stopped responding to treatment. It is part of the precision-medicine initiative announced by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address in January.

“It’s really exciting to be at the forefront of the country’s largest trial precision- medicine effort,” says Dr. Howard Bailey, director of the Carbone Cancer Center. “This trial shows how our understanding of cancer has shifted. Cancers that seem different, such as lung cancer and melanoma, may in fact respond to the same treatment because they’re driven by the same mutation in their genes.”

People who enroll in the trial will first have a biopsy of their cancer tissue. Four labs will analyze the cancer cells, looking for 4,000 different variants across 143 genes to figure out which genetic mutation is likely driving their cancer. If the abnormality matches a drug or drug combination that targets that mutation, they will be assigned to that arm of the trial.

The trial will begin in July with about 10 treatment arms, but that number is expected to double before the end of the year as more treatment regimens are added. Overall, researchers plan to screen 3,000 people in order to match 1,000 into treatments that target their particular mutation.

Wisinski is co-chairing an arm for people whose cancers have mutations in the HER2 gene, which plays a role in certain kinds of breast and gastric cancers. But people assigned into this group will have different types of cancer that all show specific mutations in HER2. They will be treated with afatinib, a drug currently used to treat non-small cell lung cancer, which may target their cancer’s mutation. “It is estimated these mutations are only present in less than five percent of cancers, which makes it hard to study,” Wisinski says. “But if you can group people whose cancers all show the same mutation, we can do a trial to see if a drug that targets HER2 is effective for these patients.”

People will stay in the trial as long as their tumors are shrinking or their cancer is not progressing. If their cancer does not have a mutation that is included in the trial, their genomic analysis will be sent to their personal doctors at no cost to them, in hopes another trial could help them.

The trial is called NCI-MATCH, which stands for Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice. It was co-developed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group. UW Carbone Cancer Center is part of the National Clinical Trials Network, a partner in the trials. For more information on the trial, go to www.cancer.gov/nci-match.