Closing in on Colorectal Cancer

October 01, 2015

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second deadliest of cancers when the incidence in both men and women are combined. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 nearly 50,000 patients in the United States will die from this disease.

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Although there were more than 150 distinct agents in clinical development for CRC as of earlier this year, experts say that very few show significant promise with respect to changing the standard of care for CRC patients. Medical philanthropy can, and must, play a role in advancing our understanding of colorectal cancer and driving innovative therapeutic approaches.

In 2012, under the auspices of the Philanthropy Advisory Service, FasterCures undertook a comprehensive review of the state of the science for colorectal cancer research. Our analysis, published in our report Colorectal Cancer: A Giving Smarter Guide to Accelerate Research Progress, revealed high-impact opportunities for philanthropy to translate research into accessible medical solutions. We found quite a few areas of promising clinical research that could serve as the tipping point toward extending survival in colorectal cancer patients and potentially pave the way to a cure, such as:

  • translational research studies aiming to identify and inhibit abnormal molecular pathways that drive tumor resistance and metastasis, and
  • clinical research evaluating the use of immunotherapy strategies (combinations of these treatments with chemo- and targeted therapies are also of tremendous value.

Yet, while these research areas are indeed poised to have a high impact on colorectal treatment options, severe funding gaps threaten to delay acceleration of progress. Enter medical philanthropy.

Based on our analysis, we were able to guide philanthropic dollars to these high-impact opportunities, including a groundbreaking translational research project led by Victor Velculescu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-director of the Kimmel Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology Program. The research project, started in 2012, focused on the first philanthropic opportunity of identifying molecular pathways driving tumor resistance. This week we see the fruits of that effort as Velculescu and team publish their findings in the journal Nature. The researchers have discovered new genetic drivers that may help clinicians predict how late-stage colorectal cancer patients will respond to therapy. In a comprehensive genetic analysis, the team identified mutations in six genes that have been linked to how well patients respond to a commonly prescribed class of drugs called EGFR inhibitors.

Not only do these results help to shed light on how therapeutic strategies can avert resistance, but also the project itself validates an innovative approach to therapy development. The team used xenograft models (human tumors grafted into mice), which proved to be an efficient way for testing the response of therapeutic agents and the connection to the underlying genomics, and could be used in the future for wide-scale pharmaceutical development and personalized therapies.

FasterCures and the Philanthropy Advisory Service are proud to have been a part of connecting passion capital to great ideas. But, more importantly, we are excited for the future of therapy development for colorectal cancer patients.