A startup company known as Foundation Medicine has just been launched with the primary goal of offering personalized genetic profiles of cancer genomes. The initiative is the first such available service, and aims to help cancer patients receive targeted cancer treatment.
In recent years, doctors and researchers have come to realize the value of mapping for specific cancer mutations. For example, a specific cancer mutation that is associated with breast cancer (HER2) has been known to seriously diminish the success rate of traditional breast cancer treatments. For these patients, the use of Herceptin within the treatment regimen helps overcome HER2 to increase survival rates.
While a handful of identified genes such as HER2 are routinely screened for when diagnosing cancer, a complete genetic mutation analysis can reveal a number of other pertinent genetic mutation combinations. Foundation Medicine wants to make such information available through their targeted genetic analysis. The cost of such testing for a patient is estimated in the low thousands.
Newly formed in 2009, Foundation Medicine has already received support from a number of leading cancer and genomics researchers. The company, based in Cambridge, MA, recently raised $25 million in capital thanks to the venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures.
Initially, the Foundation genetic service will look at 100 genes that have been proven scientifically to affect the effectiveness of cancer treatment. Recently, an increasing amount of new drugs have been identified that specifically target some of these genes (such as Herceptin). In other cases, a specific gene may indicate that a certain treatment is not likely to work. In either case, knowing which of these 100 mutations a patient has or doesn’t have may significantly alter the success rate of cancer treatment.
As the scientific community continues to discover new critical genes, Foundation Medicine plans to update their service to provide up-to-date analysis. The company also plans to expand the analysis to include the chemical makeup of each individual cancer as well.
Mathew Meyerson, a leading genetics authority at Harvard Medical School and founder of Foundation Medicine, states, “a relatively comprehensive picture of the cancer genome is probably the best way to get a good understanding of what is the right diagnostic and the right treatment for the patient.”
In terms of timing, Foundation Medicine might seem by some to be a little early in providing such a service. Though the idea of personalized medicine is still rather new, the Cancer Genome Atlas Project is scheduled to finish mapping several thousand genes for each major type of cancer in the next couple of years. When complete, Foundation will be in a good place to take the data from the Atlas Project and quickly apply it to the real world.