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Cancer Institute undertakes a new way to study disease

Cancer Institute undertakes a new way to study disease

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CHICAGO — The National Cancer Institute on Monday announced the launch of a nationwide research study that will sort patients into treatment groups based on genetic mutations in their tumors, rather than by cancer type.

The precision medicine study seeks to take advantage of progress in the last decade at identifying molecular abnormalities in cancers to determine whether drugs are more effective when targeted at those changes, rather than at long-standing labels of cancer types.

So, for example, a patient with a kidney tumor might be assigned to a group that is being treated with a drug traditionally used for another form of cancer — if DNA tests showed a likelihood that the drug might work on his tumor's makeup.

Researchers believe treatment could be more effective if directed that way.

The project is part of institute's "precision medicine" efforts and a larger shift in the field toward designing cancer trials that are faster and more efficient — and that better match drugs with patients most likely to benefit from them.

"We are truly in a paradigm change," said James Doroshow, director of the division of cancer treatment and diagnosis at the National Cancer Institute.

Now research is asking "when is histology (the microscopic structure of cancers) important, and when isn't it?" he said.

He said Monday that the effort is "the largest and most rigorous precision oncology trial that's ever been attempted."

He gave the current cost, which could change as the project continues over a number of years, at $30 million to $40 million.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology announced the launch of a separate project here Monday that will provide patients with drugs targeted at similar molecular abnormalities and collect the data from oncologists providing their care, to better understand the effectiveness of the treatments.

D. Neil Hayes, an associate professor in the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine who is not part of the National Cancer Institute's project, said it represents the future of cancer research.

The National Cancer Institute's project will begin screening patients for eligibility July 1.

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