Cancer cohorts

Researchers around the world launch the International Cancer Genome Consortium

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TORONTO—Seeking to generate high-quality genomic data on up to 50 types of cancer in a decade or less, research organizations from around the world announced recently they are launching the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), a collaboration that will make its data rapidly and freely available to the global research community.

Nations that already have research institutions as members of the ICGC are Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States—in addition to Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council and the European Commission, both of which have observer status. The ICGC is actively inviting research organizations in all nations to participate.

"The big benefit of our work to the cancer research community will be to find targets in cancer cells that aren't in normal cells so that treatments can be more specific and effective and with fewer side effects," notes Dr. Tom Hudson of the ICGC Executive Secretariat, which is based at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, one of two organizations in Canada that are ICGC members. Hudson was tapped to lead the meeting last year that set the stage for organizing the ICGC. "That's the long-term goal. But there is a short-term benefit as well, and that will be the stratification of tumors. With pancreatic cancer, for example, we tend to treat it as one type of cancer, more or less, and as we more specifically identify subtypes and characterize them, we will get better clinical utility from the treatments currently on the market. That is, we can better determine which subtypes of a cancer respond better to one treatment than to another."

Each ICGC member intends to conduct a comprehensive, high-resolution analysis of the full range of genomic changes in at least one specific type or subtype of cancer, with studies built around common standards of data collection and analysis. Each project is expected to involve specimens from approximately 500 patients and have an estimated cost of $20 million.

As part of its coordination efforts, the ICGC will generate a list of approximately 50 cancer types and subtypes that are of clinical significance around the globe. ICGC members plan to assume responsibility for specific cancers, and one of the ICGC's roles should be to facilitate the exchange of information so participants' efforts do not duplicate each other.

"Cancer's complexity poses an enormous challenge. NIH is highly encouraged that the worldwide scientific community is joining to meet this challenge, and we are pleased to be a member of this ambitious international endeavor," says Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the NIH, the U.S. research organization that is taking part in the ICGC.

The genesis of the ICGC has been driven in large part by new technologies for DNA sequencing, notes Brad Ozenberger, program director in cancer genomics for the National Human Genome Research Institute, which is part of NIH. "The groups that have had the most experience with using these technologies and applying them to human health, such as the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. and the NIH here in the U.S., are the groups involved in the ICGC. But many other groups now have the capability now to use this kind of technology and what the consortium offers is the opportunity for these newer people involved in large-scale genomics to learn from the more experienced people who've already done a lot of work. And certainly, even those of us with more experience are going to be learning a whole lot of new things together."

ICGC member nations plan to agree to common standards for informed consent and ethical oversight. In addition to maximizing the public benefit by making data rapidly available to qualified investigators, all consortium participants intend not to file any patent applications or make other intellectual property claims on primary data from ICGC projects. DDN

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