As we begin the countdown to the new year, we take a look back at 2015 in cancer research, treatment and prevention. Mendelspod is increasingly becoming known for the coverage of genomics and precision medicine, and cancer as a disease area offers a specific window whereby we can look at practical outcomes.
Anna Barker is the director of the National Biomarker Development Alliance (NBDA). Formerly the deputy director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), she has worked on cancer her entire career and seen first hand the triumphs and setbacks. Last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Anna announced the creation of GBM-AGILE, a new kind of clinical trial for a very tough, rare cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. The project is the culmination of the work of Anna and many others to come up with a better system for validating biomarkers. This single trial is a global endeavor and already becoming a "movement" in cancer research with over a hundred and forty experts getting involved. Folks at the FDA are saying that GBM AGILE “raises the bar for clinical trials.”
Along with new ways of doing clinical trials, 2015 has also seen the explosion of new blood-based cancer tests known as liquid biopsies. Still mostly research projects, these tests will potentially offer patients a non-invasive alternative to expensive and painful solid tumor biopsies and offer the promise of someday improving cancer screening and prevention.
Immunotherapy drugs continued to dominate the list of FDA cancer drug approvals in 2015 with the first approval of an oncolytic virus therapy and the first approval of combination immunotherapy. In today’s interview, Anna reminds us that the recent breakthroughs in immunotherapy are the result of a 40 year journey. She goes on to question the herd mentality reflected in the over pursuit of certain targets.
Anna wraps up her review by pointing out the opportunity to go after rare cancers, such as GBM and some childhood cancers. She says the more common cancers such as the big epithelial cancers—breast and lung— are dauntingly complex with "gazillions of mutations.” But with rare cancers, “we can follow the genomic changes through to the cells, to the organs, and to the organism. I’m thinking that we should all begin to take a careful look at some of the rare cancers,” she concludes.