This post was written by Max Wallace on behalf of the Case Foundation:
We often say that Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure’s role is like that of Lewis and Clark — we go out into the wilderness, create new trails, and send back maps for others to follow. In our case, the wilderness is brain cancer. This year, our small expeditionary and experimental team will build the first model system that will enable a large number of patients to have their brain tumor fully profiled and then use that information to help them get the most state-of-the-art treatment for their exact tumors. We’re calling it the “Precision Medicine” project and we believe it’s a disruptive innovation that can revolutionize the field.
Today, 41 people in the U.S. will die from the most common form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). This happened yesterday and, unless something changes, it will happen again tomorrow. Sadly, we are still using the same basic treatment tools and techniques that we have used for decades and, in spite of our best efforts over that time, the average life expectancy for a GBM patient is still about a year.
However, brain cancer research is about to change dramatically thanks to advances in technology, and it’s our moment to let urgency conquer fear. Genetic information and robotic and nano processes are intermingling and leading us into a new era of genomically-informed “precision” medicine. Our understanding of the genomic basis of cancer is increasing at an exponential rate. We now know that not all cancers are the same, even those which arise in the same organ. More and more people are being treated with new therapies targeted at changes specific to their individual tumor.
We are also beginning to understand that one type of cancer may use the same types of biochemical pathways as another type of cancer. This raises the possibility that a drug that works for one (e.g., melanoma) can be selected and quickly adapted for use against another with a similar molecular profile (e.g., GBM).
Not long ago, it cost tens of thousands of dollars to have a tumor profiled and you could only do it in a handful of academic laboratories. These technologies are being standardized and the cost of doing a tumor profile has now dropped to around $5,000 (and will continue to fall). Even at current levels, we can begin to integrate tumor profiling into regular brain cancer care.
Our “Precision Medicine” project will bring together researchers, clinicians and, most importantly, patients to take advantage of these new opportunities and help develop the most state-of-the- art personalized treatments. If the system works, we believe that we can transform research approaches and clinical practice. If we can do that, 12 months of survival might become two years, and two years might become four, and so on and so on. At that point, brain cancer will no longer seem like such an impenetrable wilderness.
Max Wallace is the CEO of Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, an initiative co-founded by Jean and Steve Case.