TGen-led Study Discovers Genetic Cause of a Rare Type of Ovarian Cancer

TGen-led study discovers genetic cause of a rare type of ovarian cancer. Scientific breakthrough could lead to new cancer treatments; study inspired by the memory of Taryn Ritchey, a 22-year-old patient who lost her battle to the disease.

The cause of a rare type of ovarian cancer that most often strikes girls and young women has been uncovered by an international research team led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), according to a study published online recently by the renowned scientific journal, Nature Genetics. [1] In a scientific rarity, two additional studies with similar results were also published online on the same day in Nature Genetics, producing immediate validation and reflecting a scientific consensus that usually takes months or even years to accomplish. [2-3]

By applying its groundbreaking work in genomics, TGen led a study that included: Scottsdale Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; Evergreen Hematology and Oncology, Children’s Hospital of Alabama, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, British Columbia Cancer Agency, University of British Columbia, and the University Health Network-Toronto.

The findings revealed a “genetic superhighway” mutation in a gene found in the overwhelming majority of patients with small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type, also known as “SCCOHT.” This rare type of ovarian cancer is usually not diagnosed until it is in its advanced stages. It does not respond to standard chemotherapy, and 65 percent of patients with the disease die within 2 years. SCCOHT can affect girls as young as 14 months, and women as old as 58 years – with a mean age of only 24 years old. In this study, the youngest patient was 9 years old.

The three separate groups of international researchers reported strikingly similar scientific findings related to SCCOHT, as provided below.

  • Identification of germline (i.e., inherited) and somatic (lifetime acquired) inactivating mutations in the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling gene SMARCA4 in 75% (9/12) of SCCOHT cases, in addition to SMARCA4 protein loss in 82% (14/17) of the SCCOHT tumors. Notably, only 0.4% (2/485) of the other primary ovarian tumors tested possessed similar genomic characteristics. [Ref. 1]
  • Identification of recurrent inactivating mutations in the SMARCA4 gene in 12 of 12 SCCOHT tumor samples. [Ref. 2]
  • Indentification of germline inactivating mutations in familial cases of SCCOHT. Through additional analysis of non-familial tumors, the researchers determined that nearly 100% of tumors carry SMARCA4 mutations, and 38 of 40 lack protein expression.[Ref. 3]

Collectively, these findings implicate inactivating mutations in the SMARCA4 gene as a major cause of SCCOHT, and may lead researchers to improvements in genetic counseling, as well as the development of new targeted therapy treatment approaches.

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, President and Research Director of TGen, is the study's senior author.

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, President and Research Director of TGen, is the study’s senior author.

“This is a thoroughly remarkable study. Many genetic anomalies can be like a one-lane road to cancer; difficult to negotiate. But these findings indicate a genetic superhighway that leads right to this highly aggressive disease,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, President and Research Director of TGen, and the study’s senior author. “The correlation between mutations in SMARCA4 and the development of SCCOHT is simply unmistakable.”

Dr. Trent added that while the breakthrough is for a relatively rare cancer, discovering the origins of this type of ovarian cancer could have implications for more common diseases.

Much of the work in this study was inspired by the memory of Taryn Ritchey, a 22-year-old TGen patient who in 2007 lost her battle with ovarian cancer, the 5th leading cause of cancer death among American women.

“Taryn would be incredibly excited about this amazing new study, and she would be glad and thankful that other young women like her might now be helped because of TGen’s ongoing research,” said Taryn’s mother Judy Jost of Cave Creek, Arizona. “My daughter never gave up, and neither has TGen.”

The SMARCA4 gene – previously associated with lung, brain and pancreatic cancer – was the only recurrently mutated gene in the study’s samples. The implications of this discovery, therefore, may be widespread.

“The findings in this study represent a landmark in the field. The work identifies SMARCA4 mutations as the culprit, and most future research on this disease will be based on this remarkable discovery,” said Dr. Bert Vogelstein, Director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University, Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and pioneer in the field of cancer genomics. He did not participate in the study but is familiar with its findings.

“The past decade of research has taught us that cancer is a vastly complex disease. Profound patient-to-patient variability has made treatment and diagnosis for many tumor types at times very difficult. In this case, however, we have found a single genetic event driving SCCOHT in nearly every patient,” said Dr. William Hendricks, a TGen Staff Scientist and another author of the study.

“We have shown that loss of SMARCA4 protein expression is extremely specific to SCCOHT and can facilitate the diagnosis of SCCOHT,” said Dr. Anthony N. Karnezis, a fellow at the British Columbia Cancer Agency located in Vancouver, Canada, and one of the study’s authors.

Pilar Ramos, a TGen Research Associate, is the study's lead author.

Pilar Ramos, a TGen Research Associate, is the study’s lead author. “By definitively identifying the relationship between SMARCA4 and SCCOHT, we have high confidence that we have set the stage for clinical trials that could provide patients with immediate benefit.”

“By definitively identifying the relationship between SMARCA4 and SCCOHT, we have high confidence that we have set the stage for clinical trials that could provide patients with immediate benefit.”

“We set out to uncover any small sliver of hope for women afflicted with this rare cancer. What we found instead are the nearly universal underpinnings of SCCOHT,” said Pilar Ramos, a TGen Research Associate, and the study’s lead author. “By definitively identifying the relationship between SMARCA4 and SCCOHT, we have high confidence that we have set the stage for clinical trials that could provide patients with immediate benefit.”

The TGen-led study was supported by grants from: the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research, the Anne Rita Monahan Foundation, the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation, and philanthropic support to the TGen Foundation. Further support was provided by the Terry Fox Research Initiative’s New Frontiers Program in Cancer, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

For more information about TGen’s research into small cell carcinoma of the ovary (SCCO), or to participate in a future study, visit: www.tgen.org/scco.

About TGen

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting cutting-edge genomic research to accelerate breakthroughs in healthcare. TGen is focused on helping patients with cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes, through cutting edge translational research (the process of rapidly moving research towards patient benefit). TGen physicians and scientists work to unravel the genetic components of both common and rare complex diseases in adults and children. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities literally worldwide, TGen makes a substantial contribution to help our patients through efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org.

References:

1./ Ramos P, et al.  Small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type, displays frequent inactivating germline and somatic mutations in SMARCA4. Nature Genetics (published online 23 March 2014) doi:10.1038/ng.2928.

2./ Jelinic P, et al. Recurrent SMARCA4 mutations in small cell carcinoma of the ovaryNature Genetics (published online 23 March 2014) doi:10.1038/ng.2922.

3./ Witkowski L, et al.  Germline and somatic SMARCA4 mutations characterize small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type.  Nature Genetics (published online 23 March 2014) doi:10.1038/ng.2931

Additional Information:

 

Personalized Medicine Helps Breast, Colorectal & Ovarian Cancer Patients Survive

“Cancer patients can survive longer under treatments based on their individual genetic profiles, according to a nationwide study released jointly today by Phoenix-area healthcare organizations. The study shows that molecular profiling of patients can identify specific treatments for individuals, helping keep their cancer in check for significantly longer periods, and in some cases even shrinking tumors. Study results were released today at the 100th annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Denver by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, Physician-In-Chief of the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and the study’s Principal Investigator. … Patients experienced varying levels of improvement. Among those with breast cancer, the period of progression-free survival increased for 44 percent of patients; for colorectal, 36 percent of patients; for ovarian, 20 percent of patients; and for miscellaneous cancers the improvement was seen in 16 percent of patients. …” [Emphasis added by Libby’s H*O*P*E*™]


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“Personalized medicine helps cancer patients survive – TGen, Scottsdale Healthcare and Caris Dx clinical trial shows molecular profiling can result in specific treatments for individual patients that significantly limit the growth and spread of tumors

PHOENIX, Ariz. – April 19, 2009 – Cancer patients can survive longer under treatments based on their individual genetic profiles, according to a nationwide study released jointly today by Phoenix-area healthcare organizations.

The study shows that molecular profiling of patients can identify specific treatments for individuals, helping keep their cancer in check for significantly longer periods, and in some cases even shrinking tumors.

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Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., F.A.C.P., Physician in Chief & Senior Investigator, The Translational Genomics Research Institute; Chief Scientific Officer, TGen Clinical Research Services, Scottsdale Healthcare; Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Arizona Department of Medicine

Study results were released today at the 100th annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Denver by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, Physician-In-Chief of the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and the study’s Principal Investigator.

The study included 66 patients at nine centers across the United States, including Scottsdale Heathcare. Dr. Von Hoff also is the Chief Scientific Officer of TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership between TGen and Scottsdale Healthcare that is administered by the Scottsdale Clinical Research Institute (SCRI) at Scottsdale Healthcare.

All of the patients had previously experienced growth of their tumors while undergoing as many as two to six prior cancer treatments, including conventional chemotherapy.

However, after molecular profiling identified precise targets, new treatments were administered that resulted in patients experiencing significant periods of time when there was no progression of their cancer.

This clinical trial was unique because patients acted as their own control,’ said Dr. Von Hoff. ‘We compared each patient’s progression-free survival, following treatment based on molecular profiling, to how their tumors progressed under their prior treatment regimens, before molecular profiling.’

In a significant number of patients, the targeted treatments provided significantly longer periods when tumors did not progress, or even shrunk, said Dr. Von Hoff, who also is a Medical Director of US Oncology and a former Director of the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Von Hoff said the new study was done in a way that avoided issues surrounding tumor subtypes and differences in individual biology, which have confounded other clinical trials.

He said this clinical trial demonstrated the value of personalized medicine, in which treatments are prescribed based on an individual’s specific genetic makeup. The type of drugs, dosages, their delivery and other treatment aspects – all are based on each patient’s individual medical needs.

Among the patients, 27 percent had breast cancer, 17 percent had colorectal cancer, 8 percent had ovarian cancer and 48 percent had cancers that were classified as miscellaneous.

Patients experienced varying levels of improvement. Among those with breast cancer, the period of progression-free survival increased for 44 percent of patients; for colorectal, 36 percent of patients; for ovarian, 20 percent of patients; and for miscellaneous cancers the improvement was seen in 16 percent of patients.

‘With this trial, we are showing the power of personalized medicine using the tools we already have available to us. As these tools become more precise and more effective, the value of personalized medicine will increase,’ Dr. Von Hoff said.

The molecular profiling for this research study was performed by Caris Diagnostics (Caris Dx) in Phoenix.

These results are the first in a series of studies in support of Target NowTM, a commercially-available oncology testing service offered exclusively by Caris Dx. Target Now uses cutting-edge molecular profiling techniques, including both DNA microarray and immunohistochemical (IHC) analysis, to provide individualized information about a patient’s tumor as an aid to the treating oncologist.

‘This trial is evidence of an important breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. We are excited to work with Dr. Von Hoff and TGen as we make this important molecular diagnostic information available to physicians to aid in therapy-selection decision making,’ said David D. Halbert, Chairman and CEO of Caris Diagnostics. ‘The valuable information provided through the Target Now panel of tests improves patient care while reducing costs for the payer.’

Clinical studies were conducted by TCRS at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center. Scottsdale Healthcare is a primary clinical research site for TGen.

‘Patients in our community have access to ground-breaking, world-class research right in their own backyard thanks to this collaboration,’ said Tom Sadvary, president and CEO of Scottsdale Healthcare. ‘Our goal is reducing the time it takes to get new treatment discoveries from the research lab to the patient. We are thrilled to see these advances in personalized medicine taking place right here in Scottsdale.’

The recent clinical study was dubbed the Bisgrove Trial, after longtime Scottsdale Healthcare supporter Jerry Bisgrove. The trial was funded through a $5 million grant from Mr. Bisgrove’s Stardust Foundation to the Scottsdale Healthcare Foundation. Mr. Bisgrove has been a patient at Scottsdale Healthcare and is a member of the Scottsdale Healthcare Foundation Board of Trustees. In honor of the Stardust gift, the research building at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center is named the Debi and Jerry Bisgrove Research Pavilion.

‘The Stardust Foundation is proud to have played a key role in the advancements in cancer research represented by Dr. Von Hoff’s clinical trial. We believe we are closer than ever to finding a cure for this devastating disease that affects so many millions,’ Mr. Bisgrove said.

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About Scottsdale Healthcare
Scottsdale Healthcare is a primary clinical research site for TGen. TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare is housed in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare, located on the Scottsdale Healthcare Shea medical campus. Scottsdale Healthcare is the not-for-profit parent organization of the Scottsdale Healthcare Shea, Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn and Scottsdale Healthcare Thompson Peak hospitals, Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale Clinical Research Institute, TGen Clinical Research Services at Scottsdale Healthcare, Scottsdale Healthcare Home Health Services, Scottsdale Healthcare Community Health Services, and Scottsdale Healthcare Foundation. For additional information, visit www.shc.org.

About Scottsdale Clinical Research Institute (SCRI)
SCRI, established in 2005, provides infrastructure and support for the clinical research at Scottsdale Healthcare. Start-up funding for SCRI was provided by a lead gift of $4.5 million from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust in 2005. An additional $5 million was provided by the Stardust Foundation to support this multi-site molecular profiling study of targeted therapies for treatment refractory cancers coordinated by SCRI. A defining feature of SCRI is a focus on genomics and personalized medicine as well as clinical and translational research. The basic science arm of SCRI is provided by a partnership with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Innovations from TGen’s laboratory are taken to the bedside at SHC by our joint clinical research program, TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare. Additional research collaborations include the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, other local health care delivery systems and participation in the Arizona NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program initiative. Areas of study at SCRI include Cancer, Cardiovascular, Trauma, Metabolic and Nanomedicine.

Press Contact:
Keith Jones
Public Relations Director
Scottsdale Healthcare
480-882-4412
kjones@shc.org

About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org.

Press Contact:
Steve Yozwiak
TGen Senior Science Writer
602-343-8704
syozwiak@tgen.org

About Caris Diagnostics
Caris Diagnostics (Caris Dx) is a leading provider of the highest quality diagnostic, translational development and pharmaceutical services encompassing anatomic pathology and molecular testing. Caris Diagnostics provides world-class pathology services to physicians who treat patients in the community setting. The company provides academic-caliber medical consults through its industry-leading team of subspecialty fellowship and expert-trained pathologists in gastrointestinal and liver pathology, dermatopathology and hematopathology. Caris Diagnostics provides the highest levels of service to its customers and their patients through its state-of-the-art laboratories; proprietary, advanced clinical and technology solutions; and rigorous quality assurance programs. Through the molecular testing expertise of the Caris Molecular Profiling Institute (Caris MPI) at Caris Dx, the company also offers advanced molecular analyses of patient samples through prognostic testing services and genomic and proteomic profiling to provide critical information to physicians treating cancer and other complex diseases. In addition, Caris MPI supports pharmaceutical companies and other researchers in their clinical trials for targeted therapeutics with custom genomic and proteomic analyses, analyte preservation, tissue procurement and comprehensive reporting services. The company has strategic relationships with the International Genomics Consortium, US Oncology, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, and the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University. More than 2,000 physicians nationally use Caris Diagnostics. Formed in 1996, the company is headquartered in Irving, Texas and operates four laboratories: Irving, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona (2 sites); Newton, Massachusetts. Additional information is available at www.carisdx.com.

Press Contact:
Brian Wright
Caris Dx
(602) 358-8916
bwright@carismpi.com”

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