PHOENIX, March 5, 2004 – Compilation of the nation’s first public database of standardized, clinically annotated gene expression data began March 1 with the launch of the International Genomics Consortium (IGC) expression project for Oncology (expO).
IGC is a non-profit medical research organization that builds on the discoveries of the Human Genome Project. The goal of expO is to obtain and perform gene expression analyses on an annotated set of tumor and normal tissue samples and release all data into the public domain without intellectual property restriction.
IGC’s founder, Daniel Von Hoff, MD, FACP, director of the Arizona Health Sciences Center’s Cancer Therapeutics program, says, "expO has the potential to accelerate cancer research to bring new therapies to patients by implementing common standards for tissue collection, data generation and data handling."
This project will provide all biomedical investigators with important information on which gene activities are increased or decreased in patients’ tumors. This will allow the development of multiple new approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. The initial portion of the database is expected to be available to researchers by December, 2004.
"expO represents an important link in the fast-moving world of cancer research," explains Michael Berens, PhD, expO Project Executive Director. "The database is designed to meet a crucial research need, the establishment of a 'common vocabulary' for all cancer researchers."
IGC expects to obtain 2,000 to 10,000 tumor specimens representing a broad spectrum of patient malignancies and hundreds of normal tissues, all collected from a select group of leading academic and private medical centers over the course of a three-year period.
"We anticipate the results of this study will accelerate personalized medicine in which a patient’s cancer is individually profiled allowing for a more accurate diagnosis, prognosis and a more effective therapy," says IGC Chief Medical Officer and expO Launch Manager, Robert J. Penny, MD, PhD.
The expO project’s launch is supported by funding from six international pharmaceutical firms. Major sponsors are Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline. Other sponsors are Pfizer, Aventis, Johnson & Johnson and Wyeth. Research support from Affymetrix and the Georgia Cancer Coalition also springboards the effort. Major founding support was provided to IGC from IBM, Arizona State University, the City of Phoenix, and from Maricopa County in Arizona.
Harmon Eyre, MD, the American Cancer Society’s Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President for Research and Cancer Control Science, notes, "A successful expO will deliver to cancer researchers worldwide an unprecedented and valuable tool – a clinically annotated database of the gene-expression profile of major human cancers. This is an important step in optimizing therapeutic target identification with clinical care of the patient in mind. Hopefully, it will accelerate the entire process of bringing new cancer drugs to the patient."
IGC Chief Research Officer Michael Bittner, PhD, says expO is meant to provide more comprehensive data on gene expression in human metastatic tumors than is currently available. The expO dataset will be different in three critical ways:
* Many more tumors will be sampled. It is already clear from existing gene expression data that even tumors from a single tissue source are heterogeneous, and additional significant differences in the expression patterns arise as the tumors progress. In order to catalog critical similarities and differences among tumors, systematic sampling of the types and stages of common tumors is essential.
* The expO dataset will be developed using a single analytical process. There are a variety of methods currently in use to obtain expression profiles. The outputs of these different methods are difficult to compare in an exact way, making it impossible to obtain a clear view of the variances across tumors that were surveyed using different methods.
* Even tumors that would be judged to be the same by current clinical classifications show considerable variability in susceptibility to treatments and in rates of advance. It is a general goal of the oncology research community to establish connections between particular patterns of gene expression and responsiveness to treatment and also to overall survival.
Currently, public databases do not offer significant amounts of data detailing the treatments given following tumor resection and the patient survival following this treatment. The expO project will provide these data and obtain post yearly follow-up information on the survival of these patients. These data will be collected and disseminated in a way that will fully protect the patient’s privacy.
Laboratories for expO are housed in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare, home of the Arizona Cancer Center, Greater Phoenix Area. Pilot studies for expO were conducted at Scottsdale Healthcare in 2002.
Nineteen elite medical centers throughout the United States have signed letters of intent with IGC to serve as tissue collection centers. IGC has been endorsed by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and American Cancer Society.
With start-up funding now secured, ongoing development of expO will be assisted by recruitment of additional partners. Future funding support is being sought from foundations, government sources, private donors and granting agencies.
The International Genomics Consortium (IGC) is a non-profit genomics research organization that seeks to revolutionize the treatment and prevention of cancer and complex diseases by rigorously developing and applying post-genome science to advances in human health. IGC is dedicated to the creation and public-release of clinically annotated molecular databases characterizing human disease. These databases are useful for discovery and validation of new diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets. Consortia members include medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology and informatics entities, as well as foundations and government sponsors working in a private-public partnership.
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