By Bill Berkrot
(Reuters) - Multiple myeloma research advocates on Tuesday will begin providing open Internet access to genetic and research data on hundreds of patients in hopes of speeding the development of new treatments for the deadly blood cancer.
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation's (MMRF) Researcher Gateway, a $40 million program funded by the foundation and drug company partners, will give researchers around the world access to information, such as specific patient gene mutations associated with the disease and how patients respond to treatment.
That could help identify biological targets for future medicines, hasten enrollment in studies by finding the right patients for the trials and enhance researcher collaboration.
"This data is going to be precious for academic (research) centers, community centers and our pharma partners," said Kathy Giusti, a pharmaceutical industry veteran who co-founded MMRF in 1998, two years after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma and given a three-year survival prognosis.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Johnson & Johnson, Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co and Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc, which is being acquired by Amgen Inc, have signed on as co-sponsors.
Several top hospital and academic cancer research centers, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; Mayo Clinic in Minnesota; University of California, San Francisco; Emory University in Atlanta, and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York are on board as well, MMRF said.
At the heart of the program is a multi-year study dubbed Commpass in which researchers hope to enroll 1,000 newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients by the end of next year and closely monitor them over the course of the disease. There are already more than 300 patients providing data in the trial, Giusti said.
The study has 50 centers in the United States and Europe enrolling patients with all those involved having promised to openly share data via the Researcher Gateway portal, Giusti said. All patients in the study have agreed to have their genetic information and treatment responses included.
The Commpass study aims to provide far more information than is possible from current cancer tissue banks that typically include one sample per patient.
"We wanted tissue from when the patient had been newly diagnosed when there was no treatment yet," Giusti said. Bone marrow samples will again be taken and genetically sequenced when each patient goes into remission and each time they relapse, explained Giusti, who is currently in remission.
"There is going to be new information generated there that you would never get unless you followed patients through first relapse and second relapse and beyond," said George Mulligan, director of translational medicine for Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Takeda's oncology unit.
"The size of it in patient numbers and the breadth and richness of it on a biological level, it's going to grow over time and mushroom into something that's going to be really special," Millennium's Mulligan predicted.
About 86,000 patients are diagnosed with multiple myeloma worldwide each year - about 20,000 in the United States - and there are some 220,000 cases worldwide.
"There's probably at least 10 subtypes of myeloma. Within each patient we have several types of myeloma cells and when we relapse there's an abundance of mutations, over 50 typically," Giusti explained. "You really have to understand the myeloma subtypes and find the right combination of drugs for each subtype."
The model created for Gateway Researcher could be applicable for several other types of cancer and provide biological clues to similarities among patients with different cancers.
"The whole goal is to allow researchers to go on line, to look at the Commpass data ... and to be able to share that data with each other," the MMRF CEO said.
"The point is for them to generate hypotheses from the data that they're seeing, and our goal is to drive that hypothesis to the clinic where they can do trials," Giusti said.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; editing by Andrew Hay)