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UPMC Expands the Use of Next-Generation Sequencing for Cancer Patients to Guide New Therapies

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 4, 2013 – In a move away from a one-size-fits-most approach to treating cancer, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh are significantly expanding capabilities to use next-generation sequencing to provide personalized care for cancer patients. The program, initiated a year ago, has completed the analysis of 250 patients with advanced cancer who failed standard therapies, leading to new therapeutic targets and a more dynamic model of care for cancer patients.

In a newly expanded laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, molecular pathologists are using a machine the size of a computer printer to sequence large regions of genome for patients suffering from late-stage lung, colon, breast and other common cancers. The team, under the direction of Yuri Nikiforov, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of Pitt’s Department of Pathology and director of the Division of Molecular and Genomic Pathology, as of Nov. 1, will offer testing for UPMC patients with every cancer type and stage when there is clinical necessity.

"The genetic alterations that lead to the dysfunction of cancer‐related genes are important diagnostic, prognostic and predictive biologic markers. The newest technologies known as next-generation sequencing allow us to sequence numerous cancer genes at the same time, giving us valuable information about cancer mutations that can be targeted by new drugs, allowing for the use of personalized cancer therapies,” Dr. Nikiforov said.

The program uses the Personalized Cancer Mutation Panel (PCMP) developed at Pitt that can identify 2,800 mutations in 50 key cancer genes.

“The spike in interest in molecular testing is fueled by the growth of targeted drugs that can be used based on the results of tumor profiling, and the most comprehensive way to do it is using next-generation sequencing,” said George K. Michalopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Maud L. Menten Professor of Pathology and chairman of the Department of Pathology.

To discuss this new information obtained from sequencing and the best way to use it for cancer patient care, a multidisciplinary genomic tumor board was established at UPMC CancerCenter that includes oncologists, pathologists and other physicians and scientists involved in cancer research.

Mark Socinski, M.D., director of the Lung Cancer Section of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, co-director of the UPMC Center for Excellence in Lung Cancer and co-director of UPCI’s Lung and Thoracic Malignancies Program, participates in the tumor board and has seen first-hand how such sequencing can help patients. In one case, Dr. Socinski said, genetic sequencing helped identify new treatments for a 64-year-old suffering from lung cancer; scans done since the new treatments show the cancer isn’t growing.

Doctors and researchers caution that such advanced sequencing isn’t a cure-all for cancer, but it can offer the hope of new treatments for many patients.

“Genomics is not just the future of cancer care, but it’s happening right now,” said Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., director of the UPMC CancerCenter and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). “We’re taking what we learn directly from the bench to the bedside to help patients.”

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