The world of cancer testing and treatment is about to enter into the next generation thanks to new medical technology and exciting new discoveries that are made on a regular basis.
In the past, cancer diagnosis was restricted to a limited set of procedures only intended to make a general diagnosis, and treatment options could only be selected from a few standard methods that were one-size-fits-all. Now, thanks to Clay Siegall, genetic testing and other newly developed diagnosis methods, doctors hope to be able to determine the specific nature of an individual’s cancer and to use that information to learn how that person’s specific disease might respond to specialized treatment options designed just for that person.
The genetic testing procedure, which is known as whole genome sequencing (WGS), involves mapping the entire genetic code of a human being. Since there are about 20,000 genes, or instructions that control how our bodies work, in the human body, this can reveal a lot of information about a person’s health. When there are mistakes in the code, illnesses such as cancer can result. The disease-causing mistakes can either be inherited or occur spontaneously in cells that were once normal.
What WGS can do for cancer testing is highlight the specific errors that have led to the cancer by comparing tissue samples taken from the tumor to healthy tissue taken from the patient’s body.
Giving doctors a better glimpse of the specific genetic errors leading to the cancer will not only enable them to more quickly confirm a diagnosis of cancer and what type of cancer the patient has, but the hope is that it will also enable them to develop targeted treatments designed especially for that patient based on the particular genetic factors leading to his or her cancer. Some medications and other kinds of cancer treatments are more likely to be effective than others, and knowing a cancer patient’s specific genetic makeup could increase the chances that the patient will receive a drug or other treatment that will successfully treat or even cure the cancer.
Professor Dame Sally Davies recognizes the potential for WGS to forever revolutionize the way that cancer is diagnosed and treated. She says that in about two-thirds of cancer cases, WGS can provide information that leads to better diagnosis and care. She also points out that not only does WGS lead to the potential to pick drugs that are more likely to be effective, but it can also reveal which drugs will probably not be effective, which can reduce side effects and other unwanted complications.
At $700, the cost of WGS might prove to be a financial burden for many people with cancer, especially given the other medical bills they will inevitably face. The NHS in England has paid for over 31,000 patients to be tested, but so far testing is limited to a small number of regional centers. That is why Davies is pushing for equal access to testing across the country. She wants WGS to become a routine part of medical care since it has the potential to help with diagnosis and treatment of other kinds of diseases as well.
New ways to diagnose cancer are not limited to just WGS. A teaching hospital in the Netherlands recently developed a faster way to diagnose prostate cancer. The standard method involves using a combination of an ultrasound scan and a random sample of prostate tissues, but due to the fact that it can take up to several months, it can leave patients anxiously fretting in the meantime and cost them valuable time for treating their cancer.
The newly developed method involves an MRI scan to detect possible changes in the prostate. If doctors can rule out cancer, they can give that result on the day of the test. If there are suspicions that cancer might be present, doctors are still able to take tissue samples, but overall diagnosis time is still faster at only one week. The new method also has the advantage of being less expensive than the standard method.
Bladder cancer is another specific kind of cancer enjoying the benefits of new medical technology. Researchers at a French hospital have developed a urine test to help current bladder cancer patients learn the likelihood that their cancer will recur. The new test is able to detect a faulty protein that coincides with bladder cancer recurrence in 80 percent of patients who currently have bladder cancer. This could help doctors decide how aggressively to treat a case of bladder cancer and how closely to monitor patients who seem to have recovered from it.
Dr. Clay Siegall has a passion for finding effective treatments for those who have cancer that are targeted to their specific needs. In 1998, he co-founded Seattle Genetics, a biotech firm focused on developing drugs that are targeted to patients based on their disease and individual profile. His advanced scientific education, including a B.S. in zoology and a Ph.D in genetics, has allowed him to bring his own special kind of expertise to his company. The company bases its mission on the ideas of scientific innovation, rigorous research and a genuine desire to help patients in need.
Dr. Siegall has taken his company from a small startup to a major player in the cancer research industry. Since the company’s beginnings in Seattle, it has gone on to develop the first FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate, a special type of drug designed for cancer treatment. The company also has an impressive portfolio of over 20 drugs as well as partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer, Genentech, Pfizer and others. Dr. Siegall has a strong vision for the future of his company, and it is his plan to take it into the 21st century as a company that will forever shake up the way that cancer is treated so that more cancer patients have the opportunity to overcome their illness and live successful lives. Cancer patients are sure to benefit from Dr. Siegall’s work now and in the future.