Driven by a philosophy that a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not exist in cancer treatment, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and Tempus, a health-tech company based in Chicago, announced a partnership last week to enhance personalized treatment for cancer patients nationwide.
The partnership, called the Michigan Oncology Sequencing Center panel, stemmed from the University’s MI-ONCOSEQ project for personalization of cancer therapy by using high-throughput gene sequencing methods. Developed by Arul Chinnaiyan, director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, the technique will provide new options for cancer cases where standard methods of treatment are ineffective or do not exist.
The panel utilizes a clinical sequencing-based approach to sequence DNA and RNA in a tumor in advanced cancer patients and compare them with normal cells in the same individual.
“The basic idea is, based on a patient’s molecular fingerprint, to suggest clinical trials or off-label use of approved agents based on the mutational profile of an individual advanced cancer, or, in general, metastatic disease,” Chinnaiyan said. “By matching a patient’s molecular fingerprint with potential drugs that target those aberrations, we have a better chance at treating cancer in a precise or rational fashion.”
The University is licensing the MI-ONCOSEQ panel to Tempus. Clo Ewing, director of communications at Tempus, wrote in an email interview that the health-tech company aims to commercialize the genomic panel and provide access to clinicians and health care specialists nationwide.
“Our partnership with University of Michigan will allow patients across the country to benefit from clinically validated technology that UofM has been developing for years,” Ewing wrote. “Combined with our interactive analytic and machine learning platform will support physicians across the country working to deliver personalized cancer care.
Chinnaiyan noted that because each cancer has unique molecular characteristics, genetic sequencing of tumors can provide physicians evidence for decision-making in treatment methods.
“For example, not all breast cancers are the same,” he said. “They are caused by different gene aberrations and knowing those in a more precise fashion, we hope that we will be able to deliver more durable therapies for cancer patients.”
He added that the previous treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation were relatively non-specific.
“While you attempt to try and hit cancer cells, you often hit normal cells as well,” he said.
Since 2011, MI-ONCOSEQ has been utilized for more than 1,500 patients, sequencing between 12 and 25 patients a week.
Chinnaiyan also explained that MI-ONCOSEQ is reasonable in cost and turnaround time for delivering results. Previous approaches to genome sequencing had an average turnaround time six to eight weeks, whereas MI-ONCOSEQ takes about 10 days.
With the shifting paradigm in personalized medicine, MI-ONCOSEQ allows clinicians across the country to provide personalized cancer care. Costs for genome sequencing have significantly decreased over the past decade, making it more affordable and accessible, according to Ewing. Simultaneously, technological advancements allow for larger quantities of data analysis.
“Together, this means we are at a point in time where we can empower physicians to make real-time, data-driven decisions, which we hope will result in more time for people living with cancer,” Ewing wrote.
The unique partnership between the University and Tempus is facilitated by the close relationship between Chinnaiyan and the health-tech company’s laboratories.
Chinnaiyan said there are few academic panels of this sort to be commercialized.
“I think we are excited by the Tempus partnership because they are a commercial entity to sort of extend the approach to many more cancer centers and offer it to many more cancer patients,” Chinnaiyan said.
Furthermore, the collaboration extends beyond just the panel.
“We work closely with Arul as he has agreed to become a scientific advisor to Tempus,” Ewing wrote. “We’ve developed a very close relationship with our labs cooperating on an almost daily basis.”
Chinnaiyan said he sees patients for MI-ONCOSEQ after they have failed multiple other treatments, at which point the cancer is evolved and difficult to treat.
“I think, moving into the future, the hope is that this technology of comprehensive molecular analysis of tumors, basically this next-generation sequence analysis, will be brought to earlier stage cancer patients,” he said. “By matching that combination of gene alterations with the right combination of treatment, we hope to be able to achieve more durable responses for cancer patients.”