NantHealth starts building pediatric brain tumor database

CT brain scan of child with medulloblastoma

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantHealth ($NH) and collaborators have begun a pediatric brain tumor sequencing project. The $20 million initiative will generate genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic data from 1,600 children with brain tumors and share the data publicly.

NantHealth is working with the Childhood Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hyundai Cancer Genomic Institute at CHOC Children’s Hospital on the project. The collaborators will run approximately 4,800 whole genome tumor normal RNA analyses on 1,600 children with brain tumors over the next six months. NantHealth thinks the resulting database will be the largest molecular analysis of pediatric brain tumors in the U.S.

The project builds on earlier work researchers lacked the funding to fully exploit. “This is exciting because the Childhood Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium has been biobanking tissue for years, but has lacked the necessary funding for research,” Children's Hospital of Philadelphia’s Adam Resnick said in a statement.

Soon-Shiong has put up the money through the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine, a nonprofit known as Windber Research Institute until the billionaire surgeon made it part of his vast network of ventures earlier this year.

By providing the money, Soon-Shiong has secured work for NantHealth and a proving ground for its GPS Cancer molecular analysis offering. The approach delivers genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic data NantHealth thinks can help oncologists create personalized treatment regimens, and support research into new cancer treatments.

The collaborators hope the data generated in the pediatric sequencing drive will further research. To maximize the likelihood of the data leading to a breakthrough, the project will share the repository with researchers around the world.

Brain tumors have proven to be among the trickier types of cancer to tackle, regardless of whether they affect adults or children. The FDA has approved four drugs to treat pediatric brain tumors over the past 30 years, according to the National Brain Tumor Society, and 75 of the 78 drugs to enter the clinic from 1998 to 2014 failed.

AbbVie ($ABBV) and ThromboGenics spinoff Oncurious are among the companies hoping to buck the trend. AbbVie has a EGFR-targeting antibody drug conjugate in Phase I, and Oncurious is testing its monoclonal antibody against placental growth factor in the rare pediatric cancer medulloblastoma.