For me, it was one of those precious moments in professional life when you realise why I go to work every day: Foundation Medicine, the company I work for and a member of the Roche Group, had invited a patient to tell us her story. She had cancer. Her lungs were already filled with metastases, meaning the cells from the main tumour had broken off and were now growing elsewhere.
But today there are new therapeutic approaches available against cancer, like cancer immunotherapy, that have fundamentally changed the way the patients can be treated. And indeed, after a cancer immunotherapy, in which the human immune system is activated as a weapon against the cancer cells, she suddenly felt better. After two weeks, she could breathe easier, and after about a month, the cancer had disappeared.
This is just one story, but it is a moving story in itself. But what was special for me was that a tumour profile we created had put the doctors on track to the right therapy. These profiles describe the genomic characteristics of the tumour in detail. Based on these data, we then provide a report featuring therapy options to the doctors to derive a personalised care plan for the patient. .
The key here? The more comparable tissue samples that can be analysed, the more efficiently our systems work. Foundation Medicine has now stored more than 450,000 of these de-identified tumour profiles in its database.
A comprehensive cancer database has many advantages. For example, comparative values from patients who have already been treated could be used to find new treatment options. Also, new diagnostic markers – proteins, genes and other molecules that help give clues to what is happening in a patient’s body – can be uncovered.
It is important to point out that the value of these databases is not based on the data of the individual, but on the multitude of patients. Only with the power of big data can meaningful information be obtained in the first place – and hopefully that data will write many more success stories in the future.