Childhood cancer collaboration

Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and Serametrix to develop Dx test for pediatric cancers

Lori Lesko
HERSHEY, Pa.—Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and SanDiego, Calif.-based Serametrix recently signed an agreement to jointly developa diagnostic test for predicting individual patient response to a new immunetherapy for brain cancer, giving doctors the best treatment regimen for eachindividual child cancer patient.
 
According to the partners, if successful, this kind oftreatment/patient match-up makes a strong case for dropping an aggressive,one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment in favor of a moredesigner-friendly protocol.
 
 
The collaboration is being carried out as part of thePediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Program at Penn State Hershey Children'sHospital, which is already offering cutting-edge therapies designed to boostthe immune response to cancer cells. These therapies, aimed at children withrelapsed tumors, include the use of stem cells to help stimulate an immuneresponse to cancer proteins.
 
 
"We know that stimulating anti-cancer immunity can be aneffective way to treat cancer," says Dr. Kenneth G. Lucas, director of stemcell transplants at the hospital, who has begun running clinical trials to testthe new drugs. "This collaboration with Serametrix will offer exciting insightsinto how this therapy works and whether individual clinical outcomes can bepredicted prior to treatment."
 
 
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) states thateach year more than 4,200 American children—11.5 each day—are diagnosed with apediatric brain tumor. Considered the deadliest form of childhood cancer, somebrain tumors have survival rates of less than 20 percent, the American CancerSociety (ACS) reports. Even though survival rates for some childhood braintumors have increased over the past 30 years, survivors often suffer fromlifelong side effects of treatments such as surgery, radiation andchemotherapy.
 
In addition, brain tumors are located in children's controlcenter of thought, emotion and movement, often resulting in long-term sideeffects, with survivors having physical, learning and emotional challenges intoadulthood, the ACS states.
 
Immunotherapies are proving highly effective in treating arange of cancer types, but their potency and high cost mean that a personalizedapproach to their use is much needed, says Henry Hepburne-Scott, CEO ofSerametrix. The hospital is an ideal partner for Serametrix because it hasnovel immune-based therapies for pediatric patients with relapsed neuroblastomaand sarcoma, Hepburne-Scott says. Serametrix plans to analyze approximately 100serum samples from patients enrolled onto these trials over the next year.
 
 
Thanks to its relationship with the Ludwig Institute forCancer Research in New York, Serametrix has been able to identify tumor antigenpanels for predicting clinical response in a range of cancer types includingmelanoma, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and glioblastoma, according toHepburne-Scott. In fact, the antigen panels include some cancer/testis antigenssuch as NY-ESO-1, discovered at the Ludwig Institute, which partly ownsSerametrix, he says.
 
Serametrix's Seromic Profiling Assays are available toresearchers seeking biomarkers for patient selection and monitoring, predictingpossible adverse reactions, early detection, drug repurposing possibilities andtranslational medicine outcomes.
"All the antigens in our collections are associated withdisease, have demonstrated immunogenicity and have strong potential asbiomarkers for drug discovery and development," Hepburne-Scott says.
 
 
The measurement of antibodies has several advantages whencompared to other more conventional biomarker classes because serum is a readilyaccessible tissue requiring relatively non-invasive sampling, he says. Also,antibodies provide an amplified response and their relative abundance enablesearly warning or detection of small changes—and a tissue biopsy is notrequired.
 
 
Also, multiple technological capabilities offered bySerametrix mean that candidate biomarker panels can readily be tested infurther studies, overcoming the "biomarker bottleneck" that can otherwisehamper the path to validated and clinically useful biomarkers, says Hepburne-Scott.A panel of biomarkers that reveals a patient's likelihood to positive drugresponse prior to and during clinical trials provides great benefits to thepatient, pharmaceutical companies and can predict adverse effects and serve asan early warning of disease, he adds.
 
 
"We are learning a lot about why immunotherapy works in somepatients, but not others," Hepburne-Scott says. "And it is increasingly evidentthat serum reactivity to certain tumor antigens can identify responsivepatients even before treatment has begun."
 
Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.However, the Children's Hospital website states that research at the Children'sHospital is actively supported by numerous scientific funding agencies andphilanthropies, including a $30 million endowment to help support 100 newfamilies a year not covered by insurance.

Lori Lesko

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