April 26, 2010

Exciting results from the MMRF-funded Genomics Initiative at AACR, Louise Perkins, PhD

Some of you may know that the MMRF-funded, MMRC Multiple Myeloma Genomics Initiative (MMGI) was designed to deeply explore the multiple myeloma tumor genome in more than 250 patient samples. What does that mean for folks who don't think about genomes every day? Briefly, the study was to understand the unique genetic alterations in patient tumor cells compared to their normal cells; those genetic changes are 'smoking guns' as to what has gone wrong and therefore what could be fixed to either destroy those myeloma cells or restore a more normal state to them. That's relatively easy to say (okay, for me, it is relatively easy to say) but this is difficult, time-consuming work requiring incredible technical expertise as well as patient tissue. We were blessed to be able to bring together the world-class researchers from the TGen and Broad Institutes together in a collaboration with tissue from our MMRC centers processed under standardized conditions at the MMRC Tissue Bank to undertake this 4-year, $10M project.

In terms of the time it takes to begin to see results, consider this analogy. If you have ever planted a garden, you know that careful planning and patience is needed. Many seeds are sewn and not all sprout. But when you see the first green sprouts and then the first blooms, you know that more is yet to come. The results presented at this year's American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting are like some of those first flowers. The findings are extremely encouraging and more will come leading to new drugs and new treatments in the future. The AACR meeting, for those of you who may not know it, is one of the two largest cancer research meetings in the world bringing together scientists studying all types of cancers with attendance of 17,000 researchers.

The presentations fell into two main areas: Dr. Todd Golub of the Broad Institute disclosed results of our genome sequencing study on 38 patients’ tumor and matched normal samples and the second study was presented by Dr. Angela Baker of the TGen Institute who described genomics findings from 16 African American (AA) patient samples compared to patient samples from those of European descent.

Why are the results so exciting? First of all, the data revealed several new targets for which drugs are already at various stages of discovery and development including one target (BRAF) not previously known to be associated with MM. BRAF drugs have been created for a number of other cancers where its role in disease is clear. As compared to our sequencing study, nothing else at the AACR meeting described results on tumor genome sequences in as high a level of detail or on as many samples. In a complementary way, the findings from the AA patient study hint that other drugs in development might be particularly beneficial in AA patients. Those of us from the MMRF and MMRC are actively engaged with companies working on relevant drugs already in company pipelines and also ensuring that all of the findings are followed to lead to the next generation of drugs.

There really is a bright future here and with continued generous support we will be able to build on this momentum to benefit all patients with multiple myeloma!