One of the founders of the ICGC, Dr Tom Hudson (President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research) noted that new cancer cases were expected to rise to 20 million per year by 2025, adding: “There is a clear need for new solutions to the cancer problem. Better understanding the genomic basis of cancer will lead to better cancer prevention and control measures, key priorities set out in the World Cancer Report 2014".
The World Cancer Report 2014 was released earlier this week by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and notes that the ICGC is in the process of sequencing over 25,000 tumour samples from 50 different types of cancer in an effort to further understanding of the genomic basis of cancer and catalogue important cancer mutations.
The project involves researchers in more than 70 countries; UK teams, for example, are currently working on blood, bone, breast, and oesophageal cancer genomes. It is hoped that this will in turn help in the development of better diagnostic and prognostic tools and more effective genetically targeted treatments.
Dr. Lincoln Stein, Director of the ICGC's Data Coordination Centre based at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, warned that there was still a lot to learn, saying: "Cancer is incredibly complex, with significant heterogeneity among patients, even with tumors of similar characteristics, and there is significant intra-tumoral heterogeneity that evolves over time and in response to therapy".
Part of the challenge of personalised cancer medicine will be not only in identifying the key genomic features of a given tumour and selecting an appropriate therapy, but also in monitoring the tumour’s genetic responses to treatment. It is common for the genetic profile of tumours to evolve over time and especially in response to treatments, so that different genetic treatment targets are likely to emerge. New methods for non-invasive genetic diagnosis of cancer are likely to aid monitoring of cancer patients and could form an important element in personalised cancer care.