From ‘tache to test: Movember Foundation funds research into non-invasive blood test for metastatic prostate cancer

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In order to benefit from the latest advances in precision medicine, Himisha Beltran, M.D., has to subject her prostate cancer patients to invasive biopsies that can be painful, expensive, difficult to perform, and not always feasible.

But she is hoping to harness new genomic sequencing technologies to track tumor activity from a simple blood draw, and a $1 million grant from the Prostate Cancer Foundation may help make the dream a clinical reality.

The technique, known as ctDNA, detects DNA shed from tumor cells into the circulation. It is much less invasive and allows multiple samples to be taken throughout a patient’s treatment, resulting in a more robust, real-time understanding of the cancer’s progress.

Working with colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine as well as Gerhardt Attard, M.D., Ph.D. of the Institute of Cancer Research, and experts from the University of Trento (Italy), the University of British Columbia, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Washington University, and Duke Cancer Institute, Beltran is developing a targeted genomic sequencing test (to be named PCF SELECT) that identifies tumor mutations in ctDNA from metastatic prostate cancer patients and can be used to guide selection of precision medicine treatments.

The international team has already collectively generated genomic sequencing data from more than 1,000 metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer ctDNA samples using a range of sequencing technologies and test designs.

“These data will be interrogated to identify a panel of genomic alterations that can be assessed to predict clinical outcome or response to treatment,” said Beltran, clinical director of the Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and member of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center.

The test will now undergo centralized development and testing to evaluate ctDNA samples of patients participating in clinical trials at several sites. Among the things the team are looking out for are genetic activity with known links to metastatic prostate cancer, such as the androgen receptor, and genetic changes detected among those who become resistant to chemotherapy drugs or other treatments.

Beltran’s project was one of five to receive Movember Foundation-PCF Challenge Awards, announced Aug. 2. To support these multi-year, team science awards, the Prostate Cancer Foundation received $5.3 million from the Movember Foundation’s 2015 US Campaign.

The Movember Foundation is a global men’s health charity whose famous November mustache-growing challenge has raised millions of dollars to deliver innovative, breakthrough research and support programs that enable men to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Since 2007, the Movember Foundation has contributed approximately $44 million to PCF to further new discoveries that will provide permanent remissions for men with incurable forms of prostate cancer. While prostate cancer is highly treatable if detected early, approximately 20 percent of patients will develop aggressive disease that will recur, progress, and metastasize.

“The latest discoveries in prostate cancer genetics have brought us closer than ever to a cure, but there is far more work to be done in the realm of advanced, aggressive prostate cancers,” said Jonathan W. Simons, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

“To establish precision medicine as a standard of care for all prostate cancer patients, widely adoptable genomic sequencing tests need to be developed,” Beltran said. “If successful, this project will result in a commercially available clinical-grade ctDNA test that will be widely used by the clinical prostate cancer community.”