Childhood cancer collaboration
June 2012
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author


HERSHEY, Pa.—Penn State Hershey Children 's Hospital and San Diego, Calif.-based Serametrix recently signed an agreement to jointly develop a diagnostic test for predicting individual patient response to a new immune therapy for brain cancer, giving doctors the best treatment regimen for each individual child cancer patient.
According to the partners, if successful, this kind of treatment/patient match-up makes a strong case for dropping an aggressive, one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment in favor of a more designer-friendly protocol.  
The collaboration is being carried out as part of the Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Program at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, which is already offering cutting-edge therapies designed to boost the immune response to cancer cells. These therapies, aimed at children with relapsed tumors, include the use of stem cells to help stimulate an immune response to cancer proteins.  
"We know that stimulating anti-cancer immunity can be an effective way to treat cancer," says Dr. Kenneth G. Lucas, director of stem cell transplants at the hospital, who has begun running clinical trials to test the new drugs. "This collaboration with Serametrix will offer exciting insights into how this therapy works and whether individual clinical outcomes can be predicted prior to treatment."  
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that each year more than 4,200 American children—11.5 each day—are diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor. Considered the deadliest form of childhood cancer, some brain tumors have survival rates of less than 20 percent, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports. Even though survival rates for some childhood brain tumors have increased over the past 30 years, survivors often suffer from lifelong side effects of treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
In addition, brain tumors are located in children's control center of thought, emotion and movement, often resulting in long-term side effects, with survivors having physical, learning and emotional challenges into adulthood, the ACS states.
Immunotherapies are proving highly effective in treating a range of cancer types, but their potency and high cost mean that a personalized approach to their use is much needed, says Henry Hepburne-Scott, CEO of Serametrix. The hospital is an ideal partner for Serametrix because it has novel immune-based therapies for pediatric patients with relapsed neuroblastoma and sarcoma, Hepburne-Scott says. Serametrix plans to analyze approximately 100 serum samples from patients enrolled onto these trials over the next year.  
Thanks to its relationship with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in New York, Serametrix has been able to identify tumor antigen panels for predicting clinical response in a range of cancer types including melanoma, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and glioblastoma, according to Hepburne-Scott. In fact, the antigen panels include some cancer/testis antigens such as NY-ESO-1, discovered at the Ludwig Institute, which partly owns Serametrix, he says.
Serametrix's Seromic Profiling Assays are available to researchers seeking biomarkers for patient selection and monitoring, predicting possible adverse reactions, early detection, drug repurposing possibilities and translational medicine outcomes. "All the antigens in our collections are associated with disease, have demonstrated immunogenicity and have strong potential as biomarkers for drug discovery and development," Hepburne-Scott says.  
The measurement of antibodies has several advantages when compared to other more conventional biomarker classes because serum is a readily accessible tissue requiring relatively non-invasive sampling, he says. Also, antibodies provide an amplified response and their relative abundance enables early warning or detection of small changes—and a tissue biopsy is not required.  
Also, multiple technological capabilities offered by Serametrix mean that candidate biomarker panels can readily be tested in further studies, overcoming the "biomarker bottleneck" that can otherwise hamper the path to validated and clinically useful biomarkers, says Hepburne-Scott. A panel of biomarkers that reveals a patient's likelihood to positive drug response prior to and during clinical trials provides great benefits to the patient, pharmaceutical companies and can predict adverse effects and serve as an early warning of disease, he adds.  
"We are learning a lot about why immunotherapy works in some patients, but not others," Hepburne-Scott says. "And it is increasingly evident that serum reactivity to certain tumor antigens can identify responsive patients 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's Hospital is actively supported by numerous scientific funding agencies and philanthropies, including a $30 million endowment to help support 100 new families a year not covered by insurance.
Code: E061213

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