Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related morbidity and mortality, responsible for an estimated half a million deaths per year, mostly in Western countries.
In these territories, CRC is the third most common malignancy (estimated number of new cases per annum in USA and EU is approximately 350,000 per year).
Oxford Genome Sciences (OGeS) joins a consortium, which was formed in 2005 with funding from GE Healthcare, which aims to develop an integrated personalised approach to the diagnosis, stratification, treatment and monitoring of CRC patients.
Once CRC has been diagnosed, the correct treatment needs to be selected. Currently, 60 per cent of colorectal cancer patients receive chemotherapy to treat their disease (NIH); however, this form of treatment only benefits a few per cent of the population, while carrying with it high risks of toxicity, thus demonstrating a need to better define the patient selection criteria.
"The personalised approach to cancer therapy has already proved successful in treating certain forms of breast cancer and CRC will require similar approaches," said Professor David Kerr, Rhodes professor of Therapeutic Sciences and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Oxford.
Under the terms of the two-year agreement, OGeS will apply its proprietary OGAP database towards identifying new approaches for the early differential diagnosis of early stage CRC patients
This will be compared to late invasive stage cancer patients with liver disease and poor prognosis.
If successful this differential diagnosis will lead to patients receiving the most appropriate treatment for the stage of their disease
The agreement will also aim to identify additional protein biomarkers of recurring disease with a poor outcome to determine if a personalised approach based on the use of novel 'targeted' agents will be more effective than standard chemotherapy treatment of CRC patients, which is effective in only a small proportion of patients.
>OGeS is already working with Biosite in the US to develop a new improved diagnostic for relapsing CRC based on novel biomarkers which it had previously identified using the OGAP database.
"Colorectal cancer (CRC) is responsible for an estimated half a million deaths per year in the Western world alone, and the earlier it is detected the more likely we will be able to successfully treat patients," added Professor Kerr.
CRC has become an enormous focus of drug research for big pharma as many of these new therapies target specific molecular features and pathways of CRC. The companies are recognising the increasing importance of an integrated approach across different genomics and proteomics platforms to increase understanding of CRC.
CRC has four distinct stages: patients with stage I disease have a five-year survival rate of >90 per cent, while those with metastatic stage IV disease have a <5 per cent survival rate according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
As with all cancers, the earlier it is detected the more likely it can be cured, especially as pathologists have recognised that the majority of CRC tumours develop from a benign wart-like lesion, the adenoma.