Dutch Scientists in Revolutionary Cancer Treatment Method
THE HAGUE, 08/07/13 - Dutch scientists are to develop cancer medicines on the basis of the DNA profile of the individual patients. To this end, they are setting up the Living Biobank in Utrecht.
"This ambitious step can mean an enormous step forward. If we roll it out well, the Netherlands will create a unique position with a big lead. Big pharma companies will view this with more than ordinary interest,” says Ton Logtenberg, CEO of biotech firm Merus. He is the initiator of Living Biobank, in partnership with Hans Clevers, chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW).
The foundation will be set up this summer by the Utrecht Medical Centre (UMC) and the Hubrecht Institute. Living Biobank will work in partnership with the Anglo-American scientific non-profit organisations Sanger Institute and Broad Institute. The immediate central project is a trial with 240 patients of the UMC with intestine, prostate and pancreas cancer.
If someone is diagnosed with cancer, the UMC will sent both healthy and tumour cells from the patient to partnering laboratories in the Netherlands and abroad. There, computers will determine the genetic code (DNA).
Practice shows that the DNA of healthy cells and that of tumour cells differs on some dozens up to around 100 places. The difference per individual patient provides a guide for selecting a number of possibly effective medicines from databanks of potentially healing substances.
This information will then go to labs of Living Biobank, after which the researchers will expose the tumour tissue of the patient, which has meanwhile grown into an organ-like tissue, to the selected medicines. The researchers expect to be able to identify groups of patients who react positively to certain sets of medicines. In the course of time, a total picture will be built up of relationships between tumours and subgroups with a specific DNA profile.
Clevers: "This enormous experiment will teach us what the 'rules' are. We will learn which DNA changes lead to a certain sensitivity or insensitivity to medicines. We will also learn how we can establish this in the lab. Apart from this, many of the necessary medicines do not yet exist, though there are a number in the making.”