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Fred Hutch Lands $4M for HTS-Driven Stratified Cancer Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Investigators at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will use a $4 million award from the National Cancer Institute to identify new classes of drug targets and develop criteria for stratifying patients based on who will benefit from those new therapeutics, the center said on Tuesday.

The Fred Hutch researchers will work with partners at The University of Washington and Sage Bionetworks to use high-throughput screening and RNA interference to test thousands of genes in patient-derived tumor cells, with the goal of identifying genes that are specific to the patient's tumor.

“Applying high-throughput screening on a larger scale will allow us to identify and precisely target the unique vulnerabilities of cancers and develop personalized treatments,” Carla Grandori, a research associate member the centers' Human Biology Division, said in a statement.

She said there are not enough targeted therapies that treat patients while avoiding the side effects of chemotherapy, just "a dozen or two," but there are over 20,000 genes that could possibly be targeted.

"We have pioneered a method to sort through these thousands of genes efficiently and rapidly in patient-derived cancer cells," she added.

The partners initially will home in on aggressive subtypes of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and triple-negative breast cancer, and they plan to expand their efforts to look at ovarian and childhood cancer types.

The Fred Hutch group has found that mutations of the tumor suppressor TP53 plays a role in each of the cancers they plan to study, and are associated with more aggressive resistance to treatments, according to the grant abstract on the National Institutes of Health's website.

The method the group has developed enables them to efficiently and accurately identify the weakness of cancer cells, including those carrying mutations in TP53, and now the researchers plan to expand this method to identify and validate drug targets for these tumors.

Using their techniques, the partners plan to create a database for several major tumor suppressor genes and generate novel drug targets for three cancer types, and they expect that the pipeline they develop will be useful in clinical trials in the near future.

Fred Hutch said the team already has shown some success in the clinic by showing that two tumor types, for which there are no effective therapies, have responded well to novel drug treatments.

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