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Scientists Form Genome Consortium to Wage International "Assault" on Cancer

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Several research organizations from around the world joined together earlier this month to collaborate on gathering high-quality genomic data on up to 50 types of cancer through research projects slated to take up to a decade to complete.
 
Members of the new group, dubbed the International Cancer Genome Consortium, include the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research; the Chinese Cancer Genome Consortium; the European Commission; France's Institut National du Cancer; India's Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology; Japan's RIKEN and National Cancer Center; Genome Institute of Singapore; the UK's Wellcome Trust and Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; and the National Institutes of Health in the US. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, and Genome Canada are listed as having “observer status.”
 
“In almost all forms ... cancer changes the … genomes of cells and causes disruptions within normal biological pathways, leading to uncontrolled cell growth,” the NIH said in a statement announcing the launch of the collaboration. “Because genomic changes are often specific to a particular type or stage of cancer, systematically mapping the changes that occur in each cancer could provide the foundation for research to identify new therapies, diagnostics, and preventive strategies.”
 
The data yielded from ICGC members' research will be freely available to the global research community and research organizations of all nations are invited to join the consortium.
 
“ICGC-related studies could also pave the way for new diagnostic tools to detect cancer earlier and new tests to help healthcare professionals better individualize treatments to each patient’s cancer type,” a Wellcome Trust spokesperson told Pharmacogenomics Reporter last week.
 
The spokesperson said that advances in genomic technologies have made it possible to “investigate the genomic roots of cancers at a scale unimaginable even a few years ago.” However, unraveling the genomic underpinnings for cancer is a task too large for a single center, even with these new technologies.
 
“Recent advances in methods for comprehensive collection and analysis of genomic information have made it technically and economically feasible to initiate an international assault on cancer,” the Wellcome Trust spokesperson said. “Moreover, cancer is a worldwide disease, with different incidences of different types in different parts of the world, making collection of the relevant samples more feasible by some centers than others.”
 

“Cancer is a worldwide disease, with different incidences of different types in different parts of the world, making collection of the relevant samples more feasible by some centers than others.”

According to the NIH, more than 7.5 million people died of cancer in 2007 globally and more than 12 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed. Unabated by new interventions or treatments, these numbers are projected to rise to 17.5 million deaths and 27 million new cases in 2050.
 
Each ICGC member is charged with conducting a comprehensive, high-resolution analysis of the full range of genomic changes in at least one type or subtype of cancer. The studies will be designed with common standards of data collection and analysis, and each project is expected to involve specimens from approximately 500 patients and have an estimated cost of $20 million.
 
Involving 500 cases in each study will ensure “there is good power to detect a cancer gene mutated in at least 3 percent of cases,” the Wellcome Trust spokesperson noted. “There seem to be many cancer genes contributing at this sort of level and we would like to discover as many of them as possible.”
 
ICGC's guidelines instruct members to be comprehensive when producing genomic catalogs to ensure that researchers will be able to make comparisons between cancer types. Members are recommended to detect all cancer-related genetic mutations that occur in at least 3 percent of tumor samples, generate data at the level of individual DNA bases, monitor the quality of their studies based on common standards for pathology and technology, and compare their results to data from matched, non-tumor tissue controls. 
 
Additionally, “ICGC member nations plan to agree to common standards for informed consent and ethical oversight,” the NIH said in a statement. Mainly, all research member organizations must inform patients enrolled in their studies that the patients' clinical care will not be affected by their participation. Additionally, consortium members must ensure that all samples will be coded and stored anonymously, to protect the study participants' privacy.
 
As part of its efforts, the ICGC members will also collaboratively generate a list of approximately 50 cancer types and subtypes that are of clinical significance around the globe. The ICGC will facilitate the exchange of information in this regard to ensure that research is not duplicated among members.
 
In prioritizing these 50 cancer types, the consortium will consider the impact, including incidence and mortality rates, the availability of therapies and the age of onset, scientific interest, as well as feasibility of obtaining enough high-quality samples to conduct a large-scale project.
 
The specific cancer type each member will study is under discussion and has not yet been decided. Most likely, many of the consortium members will employ whole genome shotgun sequencing to conduct their studies.
 
In order to be part of the consortium, research organizations had to agree not to file any patent applications or make intellectual property claims on primary data from ICGC projects.
 
This is particularly timely since in April, the European Society of Human Genetics issued recommendations that urge geneticists and governments to work together to use new mechanisms within their existing patent frameworks to reward innovation without restricting patient access.
 
The ESHG's recommendations include establishing an ethics committee to assess the scope of patents and limit the granting of broad patents; more interaction among US, EU, and Japanese patent authorities to align their patent systems; prohibiting patents for disease genes; and promoting new models for licensing to promote research [see PGx Reporter 04-30-2008].
 
“The catalogs produced by ICGC members will be made rapidly and freely available to qualified researchers, which will enable scientists around the globe to use the new information in their quests to develop new and better strategies for cancer therapies, diagnostics, and prevention,” the Wellcome Trust spokesperson said.
 

“We believe that not filing patents on genomic information from cancer is the optimal way of further facilitating its use and translation into benefit for patients,” the spokesperson added. “Investigators who use ICGC data will be able to take out IP on further developments, assuming that there is additional novelty from their work.”

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