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Tracy Christianson of Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center on Putting PGx in the Clinic

Tracy Christianson
Research Coordinator
Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center

Name: Tracy Christianson

Position: Research Coordinator, Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center

As part of Department of Defense appropriations for next year, $1.5 million in cancer research funding is slated to go to the Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center in Lincoln, Neb., which will host a project that aims to provide other community clinics with a workable model of personalized cancer treatment based on tumor molecular profiles. Pharmacogenomics Reporter spoke to Tracy Christianson, the center's research coordinator, to learn about how the multi-institutional project will work.

What Department of Defense program is the funding from?

I actually came from the Moffit Cancer Center, where I managed this grant, so I was in on the ground floor three years ago, from about its inception. Moffit had received [its] first-year funding, but didn't have anyone managing it at the time, so I stepped into that position.

It's funded by the Department of Defense H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, which started the first grant, but the program was designed to bring academics, industry and government together so we could all work toward finding a cure for cancer. Vanderbilt University is also involved — they're looking at proteomics. Moffit is looking at genomics.

This grant for us was designed to involve community centers. We're a community-based cancer center, and we already do a lot of clinical trial work. And the program needs tissue, obviously, to do genomics, and since it's a national program, the Department of Defense has envisioned it to be accessible from around the country. We intend to define a protocol for what it would take for us, a community-based center, to participate in this program and eventually have access to the information needed to improve our patient care.

How would that work in practice?

Basically, we will accrue patients to clinical trials at Moffit Cancer Center that involve genomics research. We will send tumor tissue to Tampa, and we will follow our patients — they'll be on some care regimen, and we'll follow the outcome of that. That information will then be placed into a database, and eventually we'll be able to identify molecular signatures for certain tumor types. If a patient were to present for a particular signature, say colon cancer, and we know that first-line treatment doesn't work for a patient like that, then we would know, based on the information in that database, to give them a different treatment.

We will also contribute to [the program] by providing tissue that will work toward more molecular signatures being identified.

What tumor types will you be looking at?

Initially, colon, melanoma, breast, and lung have been mentioned.

Are there treatments that you feel right now need guidance, or are you considering all treatments?

Basically it's an open field.

How many clinical trials will be associated with the project?

That's not been defined yet. Currently there are three — colon, melanoma, and ovarian cancer — but I anticipate there will be more.

The colon cancer one started a few months ago, and the other two are in the process of being approved, so I don't know if they've accrued any patients yet.

When the results are made publicly available, will molecular diagnostics and pharma companies have access?

Yes, through the National Functional Genomics Center based at Moffit.

Will the project result in any diagnostics?

I think it's critical — that's eventually the goal of what's going to come out of this database. Molecular signatures are going to be identified, but of course we envision that lab kits will be developed in which clinical labs will have, potentially, a kit at each clinic, so that when people come in to have their tumor assessed, it will be assessed right there. Then the doctor will have a better idea of what the best regimen for the patient is.

It's an open field, in terms of an unending amount of information to be disseminated and discovered. The National Functional Genomics Center was designed to collaborate, so we anticipate industry being involved.

Are there any companies signed on yet?

Not officially. I think [the Translational Genome Research Institute] is in discussions, but I don't know the specifics of the contracts. The National Functional Genomics Center has a business office and a business director, and she's a patent lawyer — she's definitely interested in talking to people about such things.

How long will this project last?

It doesn't have an end date, so obviously, if there are molecular diagnostics that come out of this, the center will hopefully be able to support itself and discover great things.


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