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Genomics Researchers Have a Bone to Pick with Multiple Myeloma

assorted-capsulesFor some cancer patients, the disease is confined to a certain area—a lump on the breast, a patch of lung tissue. Catch it early enough, and maybe it can be surgically removed. But what do you do when cancer is in your very bones? Patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer caused by abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow, are faced with a grueling uphill battle. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 20,180 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in 2010, while approximately 10,650 patients will die from the disease. Only about 35 percent of patients live more than five years after being diagnosed. Signal Genetics, a predictive genetic testing company focused on oncology, recently announced that it would work with pharmaceutical company Array BioPharma to advance both companies’ goals of finding biomarkers for myeloma patients. Both companies want to bring personalized medicine and companion diagnostics (tests that predict patient response to a drug) to patients with multiple myeloma. The results from Signal Genetics’ MyPRS genomic testing platform will provide Array BioPharma with genetic information from patient samples in two upcoming clinical studies with Array’s novel proprietary cancer drug. This research may lead to the development of personalized treatment options for myeloma patients. Personalized medicine, or pharmacogenomics, has been gathering buzz among healthcare professionals in recent years for its potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Instead of a “one drug fits all” approach, personalized medicine takes into account the genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors unique to each individual patient. Certain patients may respond well to a chemotherapy drug, while others may experience continued disease progression. Given the life-threatening nature of the disease, and the fact that treatment costs for multiple myeloma tend to vary widely, it is particularly critical for patients to receive the right treatment. It is believed that genomics play an important role in the development of disease and the response to treatment. In early September, Signal Genetics announced that it had acquired an exclusive license for genomic profiling technologies developed at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. The technologies, which are the result of more than 10 years of research and testing on over 6,000 patients, had demonstrated the ability to predict the stage of cancer, calculate the odds of relapse, and assist physicians in selecting the optimal treatment regimen for myeloma patients. Researchers found that certain genetic markers were correlated to specific stages of the disease. Multiple myeloma researchers are not only looking at the genomics of the patient, but at the genomics of the disease itself. In April 2006, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation began the Multiple Myeloma Genomics Initiative (MMGI) to decode the myeloma genome. By mid-2009, researchers announced that they had decoded the entire myeloma genome. The initiative also led to the creation of a myeloma-specific genomic data portal for researchers. Perhaps one of the most comprehensive resources for myeloma information is the Myeloma Beacon, a news and information site for multiple myeloma patients and their families. The site also features a number of personal stories from multiple myeloma patients who have undergone treatments ranging from chemotherapy to autologous stem cell transplants. Other companies developing treatments for multiple myeloma include Callisto Pharmaceuticals, AmpliMed Corporation and Onyx Pharmaceuticals.

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