There are exciting developments in the field of cancer care that have been unfolding for decades. The nature of cancer research is changing, and treatments are becoming more effective, providing countless patients around the world with greater hope and improved quality of life. These changes represent a shift away from broad cancer classifications and treatment methods. For example, whereas many cancers were once categorized according to limited criteria, such as stage, they can now be classified by the absence or presence of dozens of cancer biomarkers. This has led to a flurry of research, numerous genetic discoveries, and many novel treatments that are targeted at patients’ specific cancers as well as their unique genetic profiles—a method known as precision medicine.
What has led to the revolution in cancer care that’s currently underway? Researchers now have access to an array of advanced technologies that have enabled genetic discoveries on an increasingly granular level. For example, next-generation sequencing (NGS) allows for cost-effective, high-throughput, and high-resolution tumor, transcriptome, whole-exome, and whole-genome sequencing. These advances have, in turn, supported the development of precision cancer treatments, such as immunotherapies that leverage patients’ own immune systems in the fight against their cancers.
Some challenges have arisen with the proliferation of research into cancer’s genetic underpinnings. Key among these is efficiently collecting, storing, structuring, and analyzing the enormous amount of patient data that is produced. Oncology-focused bioinformatics companies, such as M2GEN, are addressing these challenges by creating highly structured datasets and providing researchers with integrated bioinformatics tools to fuel further discovery and accelerate the development of novel treatments. Advancing cancer care for patients across all socioeconomic groups while ensuring robust privacy protection also remains a guiding principle in cancer research at M2GEN.
Here we’ll investigate some of the challenges in modern data collection and cancer care, and what M2GEN is doing to help ensure fair treatment of patients.
Data Collection & Privacy
For cancer research to continue advancing, it’s important that scientists make patients active participants in their own care. Collecting genomic and clinical data from patients is key in the effort to make precision medicine the standard of care. However, patients have the right to consent to the use of their data and to understand what it will be used for.
At M2GEN, we are the operational engine of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network® (ORIEN®)—an alliance of leading cancer centers around the country. Through this alliance, we facilitate the patented Total Cancer Care® (TCC) protocol to obtain patient data through informed lifetime consent. When a candidate for inclusion in our datasets is identified, thorough information is shared about what data will be collected, how it may be used, and what steps are taken to protect privacy. Participation is completely voluntary. And, once the patient’s information is included in our datasets, the patient’s identity is deidentified and securely shielded behind an avatar.
Aside from providing patients who are undergoing cancer treatment with a sense that they are contributing to research into their disease, the process of informed lifetime consent is a distinct advantage for researchers and companies developing treatments. A patientin M2GEN’s datasets can be recontacted if they are found to be a good candidate for a clinical trial and their clinical data, which is continually updated, follows their healthcare journey. This longitudinal data is critical to identifying patterns of treatment response, gaining insights that deepen understanding of cancer, and accelerating research and development of novel and targeted therapies
Cancer is a genetic illness, and factors leading to its development, progression, and response to treatment can vary widely across populations. Many cancer biomarkers have been identified that play a role in precipitating or suppressing cancer-causing mutations. What’s more, there are numerous environmental and behavioral influences on genetic mutations that differ greatly by region.
Treatments are naturally developed to target mutations that are well represented in current datasets. If certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are excluded, it will result in inequitable access to the latest treatment methods.
Many data-sharing networks consist primarily of large cancer centers along the coasts, thereby limiting the inclusion of patients from a broad range of populations. At M2GEN, we facilitate one of the world’s most robust networks that includes data from cancer centers located in central and coastal regions of the country.
M2GEN is committed to accelerating the development of life-saving cancer treatments for all patients. To date, more than 325,000 patients have volunteered their data. And we continue to expand our alliance of cancer centers to ensure the inclusion of longitudinal clinical and genomic information from as many populations as possible.
Creating Powerful Tools in the Fight Against Cancer
At M2GEN, our mission is clear: to connect patients to a cure by accelerating the discovery and delivery of precision medicine. Our team never loses sight of who our bioinformatics tools are designed to serve, and we strive to create solutions through evidence-based approaches to predict and meet patients’ needs. Contact us today to schedule a demonstration of our products and services.