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Ivy Foundation Gives TGen $3M to Launch Genetic Brain Cancer Initiative

With a $3 million grant to the Translational Genomics Research Institute, the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation has launched an investigation into the gene patterns that could help researchers develop targeted drugs and diagnostics for brain cancer and allow doctors to personalize treatment for the disease.
The Ivy Foundation, a Palo Alto, Calif-based foundation that funds brain tumor research, kicked off the Ivy Genomics-Based Medicine Project last week. The project brings together nine US institutions: TGen, Ohio State University, MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of California-San Francisco, Henry Ford Hospital, Mayo Clinic-Rochester Minnesota, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and Van Andel Research Institute.
Under the GPM Project, these nine institutions will try “to better understand how the genetic differences in individual brain tumors can potentially inform the prediction of what will be the most effective treatment option for each patient,” the Ivy Foundation said in a statement.
Researchers will categorize brain tumors by molecular profiling for the first time and analyze tumor response to various treatments.
With the grant, TGen’s lead brain tumor researcher, Michael Berens, will coordinate and manage the two-stage project, which is expected to take between four and five years.
“Investigators hope to discover patterns within the genomic profiles that can be used to indicate tumor vulnerability to selected treatments,” a spokesperson for the Ivy Foundation told Pharmacogenomics Reporter this week. “The genomic profiles may also be exploited for development of novel targeted therapeutics for GBM.”
The Project
In the initial phase of the GBM Project, slated to start immediately, researchers at the nine institutions will genetically profile tumor tissue collected from 40 patients and grown in mice, and treat the animals with 20 marketed cancer drugs.

"Because of the collaborative nature of the project, researchers will now be able to compare results across institutions on a diverse set of tumors and treatment regimen response patterns.”

“At the end of testing, researchers will generate a catalog of 40 GBM fingerprints and the corresponding responses to each drug tested,” the foundation spokesperson said. This first stage is expected to take between one-and-a-half to two years.
Upon the successful completion of animal studies, the researchers will then move on to human trials. The treatments for testing are still being determined, according to the foundation spokesperson.
The GBM Project will profile tumor samples, looking at DNA amplification or deletion with microarray-based comparative genomic hybridization, gene promoter methylation of various genes including MGMT, and select genes for sequencing.
Studies have identified promoter methylation of the DNA repair gene MGMT as a genetic marker for response to standard therapy.
"Because of the collaborative nature of the project, researchers will now be able to compare results across institutions on a diverse set of tumors and treatment regimen response patterns,” TGen’s Berens said in the statement. “The size, scope, and potential impact this project will have for patients with brain cancer is simply huge."
Critical Need
The GBM Project evolved from founder Catherine Ivy’s experience helping her husband, Ben, battle brain cancer. Her husband’s struggle with the disease revealed the limited therapeutic options available to her husband and to other patients.
Ben, who was president of the Palo Alto-based investment advisory firm Ivy Financial Enterprises, died of brain cancer in 2005.
In memory of her husband, Catherine formed the Ivy Foundation to develop better diagnostics and targeted treatments what will increase survival and improve the quality of life for patients with brain tumors.
Currently, all patients with malignant brain tumors receive the standard of care, which usually consists of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy with temozolomide. The standard of care in brain cancer does not take into account the genetic profile of the patient.
The GBM Project is the first brain project funded by the foundation. “In the fall, we will announce additional research projects that will be funded by the Ivy Foundation,” the foundation spokesperson said.
This year, the organization plans to grant $12 million to patient-focused research in brain cancer.
The American Brain Tumor Association estimates that 44,865 new cases of brain tumors, including benign and malignant tumors, will be diagnosed in 2008. More than 100,000 cancer patients in the US will experience symptoms due to a brain tumor in the spinal cord from cancer metastases.

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