Norwalk Hospital offers personalized cancer therapies

Researchers at the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital have begun enrolling patients in clinical trials that are at the cutting-edge of cancer research. They are testing cancer medicines specifically targeted to the unique DNA changes present in a patient’s cancer cells. These cancer-related DNA changes, called “mutations,” fuel the growth of cancer.

To accomplish this research, Norwalk Hospital has partnered with two biotechnology companies: Foundation Medicine of Cambridge, Mass. to analyze the mutations in cancerous tumors, and the pharmaceutical company Novartis to provide the experimental drugs that neutralize those mutations.

Foundation Medicine uses a technology called Next Generation Sequencing to analyze nearly 300 cancer-related genes in a patient’s tumor specimen. This includes both solid tumors and blood cancers. Typically, fewer than 10 cancer-related DNA mutations will be found in any specimen.

Oncologists at Norwalk Hospital use the test results to see if a drug in the Novartis pipeline matches the DNA mutation specific to their patient’s cancer. This approach is called P2P, which stands for “protocol to patient.”

Dr. Richard Frank, director of cancer research at Norwalk Hospital, is very excited about the possibilities.

“To be able to uncover the mutant genes driving a cancer gives us new insight never available to oncologists before,” he said in a press release. “But, more importantly, the possibility of using a drug that targets the critical mutation and that may control an incurable cancer is a tremendous leap forward.

He emphasized that this approach is experimental and it is not known which patients will be helped by it. But he said, “We are very excited to be able to participate in the P2P program and to offer a novel, tailored approach to our patients who have run out of options to treat their cancers.”

For information on this and other cancer research at Norwalk Hospital, call Jennifer Long, APRN at 203-852-2996.