Marshall Professors Create Groundbreaking New Test In Fight Against Cancer
Reported by: Kennie Bass
Videographer: Matt Durrett
Also Contributing: Larry Clark
It’s called ChemoID, and it could represent a big step forward in cancer care.
Nearly a decade ago, two Marshall University professors met on this bridge, which connects the Science Building and the Byrd Biotechnology Center. That moment of serendipity, of blind chance bringing two people together, was the beginning of a relationship which led to combining research and work leading to revolutionary new way to fight cancer.
“It’s a new paradigm in cancer treatment,” Dr. Jagan Valluri, Marshall University professor said. “Simply because this particular assay that we developed is simply going to deliver great results in improving clinical outcomes. And more importantly there is a lessening of the financial burden on patients because the assay is going to select the right chemotherapy for that particular patient.
“A particular patient will respond to a certain drug better than another patient,” Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio, Marshall University professor said. “Why is that? Because those cancers are, although they look the same, they are really different. You and I, we are different genetically, so is cancer. And so, therefore the different response is due to that. So our test is a functional test that is able to find, select correct drugs, more useful drugs for that individual patient. And deselect those that are not useful that would cause more harm than benefit.
Identifying the best treatment for cancer has long been the subject of comprehensive research. The Marshall professors developed their second-level test, which subjects cancer stem cells to a multitude of different medicines.
Claudio says clinical tests show ChemoID is very effective and accurate in predicting which chemotherapy drugs or combination of drugs work best in individual cancer patients.
Let me illustrate how ChemoID works using this deck of cards. Let’s say each card is a federally-approved chemotherapy treatment against cancer and let’s say you’re diagnosed with lung cancer. So, your doctor picks a card. First generation testing is right about 60 to 70 percent of the time in choosing the right chemotherapy to deal with a general type of cancer. So, your oncologist picks this type of chemotherapy and it proves to be effective. But then another person is diagnosed with the exact same type of cancer. Their oncologist also prescribes this form of chemotherapy but it doesn’t work on them. So the oncologist is forced to go to a second type, this drug which is a little bit more effective. What the ChemoID researchers say is that their second generation test finds the correct medication to deal specifically with your type of cancer. They say that ChemoID will save money, it will save time and most importantly it will save lives.
“We have introduced a novel part to this test which is testing the cancer stem cell population,” Claudio said. “Which are the seeds of cancer, the roots of cancer. Just like normal tissue have stem cells, also cancer has stem cells. However, those are evil stem cells able to regrow and repair cancer following a failed chemotherapy. So if we leave those bad boys behind what happens is that cancer will recur. Our ability with this test is to select those cancer stem cells and grow them up so that we have material now to make a test and predict against cancer stem cells which chemotherapy will be more effective for selected patients, for individual patients.
“People have been trying to personalize chemotherapy,” Valluri said. “Because chemotherapy, when you provide chemotherapy to a patient it is generally based on clinical trials on generalized populations. It’s never specific to a patient group or subset of people. And so, what our process does is we minimize the trial and error by truly personalizing the chemotherapy and going after what we call the seeds of the cancer, the cancer stem cells. And so, the seeds of the cancer, if we can effectively target them and lower the load of the cancer stem cells there there is a greater clinical outcome.”
Finding the best chemotherapy option for each individual cancer patient could save time and avoid the harsh side effects of chemo treatments which aren’t most effective.
“Every person is different,” Claudio said. “So because every person is different, although every single card could be a good play to be played, drugs that may work better, we can find the drugs that can work better for that particular patient and therefore play that card instead of a different card.”
Clinical trials at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center showed very positive results. ChemoID has been used to help dozens of patients during the testing period. One patient is celebrating six years of treatments. That’s six years longer than they were expected to live.
“By using the correct drug and by impacting more the cancer than the patient will in the end, prolong life and provide a better quality of life for patients,” Claudio said.
ChemoID is not a cure for cancer. But, for people with lung, brain, spine and breast cancer, it represents finding their best chance at making their disease chronic instead of fatal.
Claudio says an additional benefit is that ChemoID could save money. He and his partner recently talked with Senator Joe Manchin about their research and how it could cut Medicaid costs if its implemented on a wide basis.
“First of all, the quality of life, the ability to extend a person’s life that might be terminal,” Manchin said. “But the other thing is the amount of money that would be saved from treating so many different things that doesn’t have an effect.and being able to pinpoint what will be effective.”
The researchers say your oncologist, your doctor, will still have the final say as to which medicine they want to use to treat your cancer.
However, ChemoID is an additional tool which could give both doctors and patients more information about the best path to take and could provide an additional edge leading to longer and better quality lives.
“It’s gonna have an impact worldwide,” Valluri said. “Because when you think about in the U.S. alone we spend 30 billion dollars on chemotherapy drugs. The cost of cancer in this country alone is over 210 billion and it is a tremendous financial burden on patients. What this assay does is truly personalizes the chemotherapy selection. You’re not only reducing toxicity improving patient outcomes and reducing costs. So, there’s many facets to this technology.”
“By using this test,” Claudio said. “Oncologists can have a new pair of glasses that magnifies drugs that are working for that particular patient and can provide a benefit to the patient better than other drugs that wouldn’t.
Cabell-Huntington Hospital is planning to implement the new ChemoID cancer screening this fall.
The test’s creators say they hope to share the ChemoID technology with the hospitals across West Virginia, the nation and eventually the world.