Cadre of scientists compile volumes of data on cancer cell weaknesses

So you're a researcher or a doctor, trying to pick a drug that would work best targeting a specific cancer subtype. What to do? You now have "encyclopedias" of sorts, where you can look the information up.

The combined resource catalogs more than 1,600 cancer cell types and how they respond to 150 possible treatments, according to The Boston Globe/'s White Coat Notes blog, which offers a great summary of what the resource is and how it became available. And a Who's Who list of major research centers compiled the databases: the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA., the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge. (Details are published in the journal Nature.)

Researchers will be happy to know that this builds on previous databases, which only contained a few dozen cancer cell lines and corresponding treatments, White Coat Notes points out. Clearly, this will give a big boost to the bid to standardize personalized medicine in drug research and development, the notion of finding which treatment works best for a particular person, subclass of patients or subset of cancer, for example. And having large database resources creates practical tools for researchers to test compounds for specific disease subsets based on previous data, saving time and money. Further, the new resource could address remaining personalized medicine shortfalls, revealed by U.K. research that found shortfalls in specialized treatment, with a single biopsy only painting one tiny part of the cancer's overall structure.

Novartis ($NVS) has even put the cell line encyclopedia to work. According to the blog entry, the company is testing potential drugs it is coming up with against the cell line list, and the process has allowed the company to shift how it structures some early-stage drug trials to focus more on patient subsets with certain genetic aberrations that would best respond to a certain treatment.

Cyril Benes, director of the center for molecular therapeutics at the MGH Cancer Center, explains to White Coat Notes: "It's important to know what mutations are leading to, or linked to response to what drugs. And it can also be a way of discovering a new re-purposing, a new application of a given drug."

- here's the story
- read the Nature article (reg. req.)