Getting ahead of head and neck cancer

GeneCentric and collaborators at Washington University advance academic-industry head and neck cancer partnership under NCI grant

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DURHAM, N.C.—GeneCentric Therapeutics, Inc. announced today that it has entered the second phase of an academic-industry collaboration with Jose Zevallos M.D., MPH, chief of the division of Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
This collaboration is funded by a National Cancer Institute (NCI) R01 grant, awarded to Dr. Zevallos in August 2017. The grant supports the investigation of novel approaches to improve outcomes for patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Entitled “Development of a Four-Class, Molecular Subtyping Diagnostic for HPV-Negative Head and Neck Cancer,” the grant is focused on the development of a clinic-ready tumor subtyping diagnostic test, in collaboration with GeneCentric Therapeutics, that will guide treatment decisions for patients with HPV-negative HNSCC.
Head and neck cancer, a group of cancers that starts within the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses or salivary glands, is the seventh most common of all cancers. Because the majority begin in squamous cells which line the moist surfaces inside the head and neck areas, such cancers are also referred to as HNSCC. These cancers comprise a heterogeneous disease with multiple tumor types, and correspondingly varying prognoses and treatment responses.
Advanced HNSCC is associated with a 40-50 percent recurrence rate following primary treatment. Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection is an important risk factor, but infection is present in only a subset of cases and knowledge of HPV status alone is not sufficient to guide treatment.
Better classification tools are needed to inform therapeutic choices and improve survival. To address this critical need, GeneCentric has applied its Cancer Subtyping Platform (CSP) to develop a comprehensive profile of head and neck tumor subtypes that can guide drug development, clinical trials and patient treatment. The GeneCentric Head and Neck cancer Subtype Profiler (HNSP) consists of five distinct subtypes, including one specific to HPV-related HNSCC, as determined through research.
The HPV-negative subtyper being applied under this NCI grant is a modified version of GeneCentric’s previously-developed HNSP. Following successful completion of Phase 1 development of a reduced gene-set signature, GeneCentric is poised to commence Phase 2 validation studies with Zevallos and his team. The last stage of the NCI grant, Phase 3, entails final confirmation of the HNSCC diagnostic test and commercialization.
“This research has the potential to impact treatment for a broad range of patients with head and neck cancer. Our aim is to better identify cancers that are resistant to radiation therapy. We also hope the test will more accurately identify patients with occult lymph node metastasis and help surgeons make more informed decisions on when surgery to remove neck tumors should be offered to patients,” said Zevallos of the NCI-sponsored partnership with GeneCentric.

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