Jefferson’s Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., Awarded CURE Grant to Move Colon Cancer Test Closer to Commercialization

Test could identify patients who will benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy; help reduce racial disparities in colon cancer

Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Thomas Jefferson University, has been awarded a Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) grant for almost $750,000 to help advance a molecular diagnostic test for colon cancer into commercialization.

Such a test would better detect recurrence in a group of colon cancer patients whose metastases are hidden, and help reduce racial disparities, particularly in the African-American community, who are at higher risk of dying from metastatic disease.

The nonformula grant was awarded competitively from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. One of this year’s priorities for the Department’s Health Research Advisory Committee is Cancer Diagnostics or Therapeutics with Commercialization Potential.

About 25 percent of colon cancer patients who are deemed node-negative, or pN0, (meaning the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes) after treatment end up recurring with metastatic disease. Known as occult tumors, these hidden metastases often escape detection, be it imaging modalities or histopathology.

Today, no such test exists to distinguish these colon cancer patients, and as a result, they are often treated the same.

To better stratify this group, Dr. Waldman and colleagues have developed a diagnostic test that uses the hormone receptor guanylyl cyclase C (GCC) as a biomarker.

Previous research shows that a quantitative, molecular analysis of lymph nodes in patients deemed colorectal cancer-free was found to be an effective predictor of recurrence. Expression of GCC in the nodes, they found, is associated with an increased risk.

“This approach can improve prognostic risk stratification and chemotherapeutic allocation for these colon cancer patients,” said Dr. Waldman, a member of Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center. “With this CURE grant, we can now move a much-needed technology closer to commercialization, meaning closer to patients.”

The test will ultimately determine who can benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy, which is designed to eradicate whatever occult disease is left after surgery and other treatments.

This test would benefit the African-American community, in particular. Beyond the general population risk, there is an established stage-specific difference in outcomes in pN0 African Americans, who are 40 percent more likely to die from the metastatic colon cancer than whites.

Stratifying these patients could ultimately reduce related racial disparities in mortality and survival.

The primary purpose of this nonformula grant is to support research activities that commercialize and bring to market new cancer diagnostics and therapeutics for which proof of concept has previously been demonstrated and has the capability to solve or diminish a specific problem related to the diagnosis or treatment of one or more malignant diseases.

Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), the largest freestanding academic medical center in Philadelphia, is nationally renowned for medical and health sciences education and innovative research. Founded in 1824, TJU includes Jefferson Medical College (JMC), one of the largest private medical schools in the country and ranked among the nation’s best medical schools by U.S. News & World Report, and the Jefferson Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, Population Health and the College of Graduate Studies. Jefferson University Physicians is TJU’s multi-specialty physician practice consisting of the full-time faculty of JMC. Thomas Jefferson University partners with its clinical affiliate, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.

Act 2001-77, the Tobacco Settlement Act, authorized the Pennsylvania Department of Health to establish the CURE Program to fund health research using tobacco settlement monies. The CURE Program provides broad-based health research funding in the form of formula and nonformula grants to Pennsylvania-based researchers, universities, medical schools and other institutions.

If you would like more information about grants supported by the tobacco settlement funds, visit www.health.state.pa.us/cure.

For more information, contact: Steve Graff, Thomas Jefferson University and Hospitals, 211 South 9th Street, Suite 310, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 955-5291, (215) 955-5008 fax, or email stephen.graff@jefferson.edu.

Published: 04-26-2012

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