Front line of defense against prostate cancer
September 2013
by Jim Cirigliano  |  Email the author


ROCKVILLE, Md.—Biopharmaceutical company Berg Pharma has announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) under a cooperative research and development agreement with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences' Center for Prostate Disease Research (CPDR) and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine Inc.  
Berg will apply its Interrogative Biology discovery platform to the DoD's vast clinical records, specifically the CPDR's extensive library of prostate cancer data. The CPDR has 27,000 clinically annotated records of prostate cancer patients within the military healthcare system dating back to the 1980s. The DoD's records are rare in their longitudinal nature and comprehensiveness; they contain samples of both cancerous and healthy tissue from the same patients along with serum and blood samples spanning three decades, making them perhaps the world's most valuable sample set in prostate cancer.  
Berg's Interrogative Biology platform uses systems biology and big data to establish linkages among multiple datasets that include not only genomes, but also proteomes, metabolomes and lipidomes. The platform compares these "-omes" among cells in healthy as well as diseased states in the hopes of identifying outliers that represent the signatures of prostate cancer processes in cells. The platform integrates molecular data directly from a patient with clinical and demographic information and uses artificial intelligence to learn predictive patterns.  
Currently, the medical community has the greatest unmet need in prostate cancer for men who test in a "gray area" of the commonly used Gleason test—with a Gleason score of 5 to 7—where it may be difficult for physicians to determine whether these patients need to be treated immediately or may simply be monitored closely. Often times, men with Gleason scores in this range may be encouraged to choose treatment out of an abundance of caution, but in some cases treatment may ultimately be unnecessary.   The goal of applying the Interrogative Biology platform to the CPDR's vast stores of data is to identify a better, more predictive biomarker set to diagnose prostate cancer and follow patients at the greatest risk of becoming ill.  
"Together, we have the potential to change the meaning of a prostate cancer diagnosis—and hopefully, prognosis," said Niven R. Narain, president and chief technology officer of Berg, in a media statement announcing the collaboration.  
The partnership developed after both organizations attended a cancer conference and began informal discussions. The DoD invited Berg to present about their work and their Interrogative Biology platform. Berg had already used their platform to identify two novel markers in prostate cancer, which helped to earn them the partnership. Berg now hopes to be able use the DoD's approximately 7,000 serum samples to validate these markers.  
"This relationship underscores how government and industry can work together and use their synergy to tackle one of our most important health crises," says Narain.  
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-cutaneous cancer among men, with nearly a quarter of a million cases diagnosed in the United States in 2012. It is also the second most common cause of cancer death among U.S. men, with approximately 28,000 prostate cancer deaths in 2012. Population disparities have been well recognized in prostate cancer, with CPDR conducting a considerable share of the health disparity research.  
"In light of predicted change in the ethnic landscape of the United States, it is important to define biomarkers that perform equally well in all ethnic groups," says Gwendolyn Smalls, director of media affairs at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.   
Berg is the parent company to Berg Pharma, Berg Biosystems and Berg Diagnostics. The company has a deep pipeline of early-stage technologies in CNS diseases and metabolic diseases that complement its late-stage clinical trial activity in cancer and prevention of chemotoxicity. Berg's discovery platform translates biological output into viable therapeutics and a robust biomarker library.  
The Uniformed Services University's Center for Prostate Disease Research is a state-of-the-art translational research program that studies prostate cancer and prostate disease in the military healthcare system. Since its inception in 1992, the center has developed a comprehensive prostate cancer database within the DoD, a leading prostate cancer research center credited with groundbreaking discoveries and a prostate cancer clinical trials center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The CPDR is a program of the Department of Surgery at USU and is administered by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine Inc.  
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