The Acquisition Boom in Technology

March 26th, 2014

In this post, I will leave science behind and discuss the technology “craziness” that has been happening. Billion Dollar acquisitions of companies that not even have revenue or profit. The Internet revolution now is eccentric and transforms youngsters with an app idea in millionaires and billionaires from day to night.  In less than 2 months, for example, Facebook acquired Whatsapp, the Drone maker Titan Aerospace and now the virtual reality company Oculus. A mix of software and hardware and new technologies are becoming the sexiest thing to acquire nowadays. Companies with tons of cash such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others can choose what to buy and how to buy. We are living in the new era of the internet. Working in Wall Street in the  financial district getting millions in investment deals is not the big American Dream anymore. The dream is to have an idea, build a start up and sell it for millions or billions of dollars to the big ones. Or even grow it to become the next Facebook or Google. One interesting case is Whatsapp, that was sold to Facebook by around 16 billion dollars. If you think about it, this is a lot of money, but strategically, it was a bold move. Whatsapp has no revenue whatsoever or even sell adds. It is simple, just a messaging app, but the number of Users builds its value. Let’s make the math: Facebook has around 1.2 billion users and of these probably millions use Whatsapp or have an account of it. However, millions that use Whatsapp (which is probably 200 million people) doesn’t have a Facebook account. Thus, Facebook indirectly bought new users that Whatsapp has to incorporate in its platform. I use Whatsapp to message people from family, friends and colleagues and see the trend in txt messaging. It is simple, useful, and the bottom line is that it does the job. Another example is Google buying Nest for 3 billion dollars. As its own early dive into wearables with Google Glass demonstrates, Google knows it can’t miss this next big leap in hardware. And Nest provides what they want in terms of geolocation of thermostats. The last big move occurred these days with Facebook buying the virtual reality company Oculus by 2 billion dollars. This is another example of a software company buying a hardware company. Facebook believes Oculus has the potential to be the most social platform ever by enabling sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures. This might be a competitive move by Facebook towards Google Glass Platform. Since after the burst of the bubble of the internet in the beginning of 2000, we have been watching another bubble of tech internet companies popping up and acquisitions of billions occurring. It has been all about strategy and new technology, not profits or revenue increase. The companies that are in the big “club” such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are positioning themselves in a competitive scenario. The only question is who is going to be successful in the long run with these acquisitions. There is a promising future in the tech sector. Are we close to the movie “Minority Report” with virtual reality? Facebook believes so. We will see.

“Dallas Buyers Club” and HIV testing

February 3rd, 2014

What would you do if you were tested positive for HIV in a routine blood exam? Well, this question came up after I saw the movie Dallas Buyers Club. The movie portrays the life of Ron Woodroof, who was a Texas cowboy and drug user and was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s. He was initially given 30 days to live, but Woodroof (portrayed by actor Matthew McConaughey) begins taking azidothymidine (AZT), the only HIV drug legally available in America at that time. Woodroof goes on to travel the world, searching for medications that will keep him alive, and as a result, the Dallas Buyers Club is formed.  With the help of a doctor and another patient played by Jared Leto as a transsexual, Woodroof begins selling smuggled drugs out of a motel in Dallas, providing HIV-positive patients with alternative forms of treatment for their disease, since the FDA was still testing the drugs that are currently used. Interestingly, the storyline closely reflects the real life events of Ron Woodroof and provides a great example of how patient advocacy hastened the development of effective HIV medications during the 80s. I watched the movie and it was clear how the process of drug approval and lab testing is still rudimentary. Coming back to my question in the beginning of this blog post, what if your HIV test comes back positive? Well, what if I say that the standard tests done for HIV have problems with numerous false-positives? The main and most widely test used is an immunoassay called ELISA that measures antibodies against the virus. However, viruses are very similar and have building blocks or proteins that look alike. So, when you measure antibodies against a response of the human body for a viral infection, false-positives can occur. Indeed, I am writing this post to give people awareness that, for example, flu vaccination could cause a false positive for HIV. Like I said, the viruses are very similar. The HIV GP160 protein exists in several viruses and has a lot of similar regions (see more at this report on the New England Journal of Medicine “Influenza Vaccination and False Positive HIV Results”). This protein is present in other virions too, especially a variety of flu related viruses. Thus, vaccination against any type of flu could generate a cross-reaction in the aforementioned immunoassay. In fact, there are several reports and groups of discussion online in which the most discussed subject is a false positive test result for HIV. Yes, that is scary and weird, but it is more common that we imagine. Given the escalating international awareness of various influenza strains and flu vaccination, it is very important for clinicians and patients to keep in mind that influenza vaccination may cause cross-reactivity with HIV antibody assays. The time course for such cross-reactivity remains mostly uncertain, but could be for months. If your HIV test was positive, take into account this possibility and ask for the use of a nucleic acid amplification test instead of the “Western blot” assay to confirm the enzyme immunoassay. People should and need to be aware of that. The movie Dallas Buyers Club just reminded me how science and research can be misleading within its own “rules”. Ron Woodroof tried to overcome these rules to save lives and himself. We all need to take care of ourselves, of course, using the law to do it. The take home message is that we still do not understand enough about the biology of viruses and confusions such as the one I discuss here could happen. So be aware!

 

 

 

A Digital Revolution in Healthcare?

January 24th, 2014

Recent advances in information technology have opened an exciting new frontier. A convergence is taking place between medicine and wireless technology, making it possible to change the way medicine and healthcare delivery are managed. In the coming years, this digital revolution in medicine could have far-reaching and more dramatic implications, changing the face of healthcare around the world. Mobile sensors and advanced processors are already enhancing doctors understanding of their patients signs and symptoms, leading to more personalized and effective ways to maintain health, detect problems, and treat illness. In our increasingly connected world, where more than 6 billion people have access to mobile devices, this individualized healthcare data has the potential to be collected and distributed nearly instantly, resulting in improved care for people of all ages, in every area of the world, who suffer from virtually any disease, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s to breast cancer. The two major drivers of the increased interest in digital healthcare are both the emergence of online networks (mainly because the internet is getting faster) and big data accumulation, mostly coming from medical records and scientific research (for more information see my recent article “The impact of online networks and big data in Life Sciences” at the Social Networking Journal). In fact, there are already more than 10,000 medical and healthcare apps available for download from Apple iTunes store and this is the third-fastest growing category among iPhone and Android users, showing no sign of slowing with the mobile health market estimated to grow ten times from U$1.2 billion in 2011, to U$12 billion in 2018. The major barriers to speed up the application of digitalized information in healthcare are the privacy of the data and regulation hurdles (see more at my article “Big Data in Biomedicine” published on Drug Discovery Today). However, I believe that technology always overcomes all barriers, especially when big amounts of cash are been thrown in a specific sector such as healthcare. For example, health is the number two most searched subject on the web.The mobile industry impacts in this change, mainly because almost all humans on earth now own a smartphone with internet and search capabilities.Ultimately, this revolution will be driven by “machine to machine” interactions. For this new digital era to be truly transformational, apps need to transmit information directly to healthcare providers. This will allow the healthcare systems to not only react, but to predict health outcomes based on a patient’s personal information. mHealth or mobile Health will allow communication and monitoring to take place like never before. Your body will talk to the healthcare system without you even knowing it. This new revolution started now and won’t stop. If it is to save more lives and so people could live more and better, so be it! (Image Source: Huffingtonpost)

Cancer – many diseases in one?

November 18th, 2013

Cancer is a disease of the cells. The body is made up of a community of individual cells, each of which has a specific job to ensure that the community functions correctly. Liver cells must detoxify the fluids of the body, lung cells must exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide from the blood, and skin cells must separate the outside world from the inside of our body. In addition to performing their assigned jobs, cells are also good citizens. Cells respect the space of the other cells around them and support the healthiness of those cells. Occasionally, cells begin to grow in an uncontrolled fashion, causing many problems for the body. Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth or proliferation. Cancer cells are no longer good citizens. For instance, a liver cell that becomes cancerous no longer does its job of detoxifying the body. In addition, cancer cells do not respect their neighboring cells and will crowd them out of existence. We always had this concept that is still used in pathology today that each cancer type refers to the tissue and cell type of origin. In that case, breast cancers would emerge from the breast cells and have their original characteristics. It turns out that cancer is a combination of many different diseases in one. Cancer is not a single disease, but literally hundreds of different diseases. This is of great practical importance to both physicians and patients, because different cancers have to be treated differently having different outcomes for the patients. In this regard, recent studies have shown that we should classify and also treat tumors mainly based on the mutations that they carry other than the tissue of origin (see more in the article “Mutational landscape and significance across 12 major cancer types” by Kandoth et al. on Nature). Multiple genes are defective in cancers. Cancer does not occur from a single gene mutation in a single gene. Instead, the development of cancer involves multiple mutations within several key genes, including mutations in proto-oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, DNA repair genes, etc. Researchers recently pointed out that we should start treating tumors based on their genetic and genomic profiles and landscape. These findings lay the groundwork for the development of personalized therapies. In addition, it is clear that pathways of genes should be the focus of treatment (see the comment “Herceptin pioneer’s life science innovation: Cancer pathways should be treatment focus” at MedCity News). These pathways of genes represent the driver defects that could be the cause of the disease, thus providing windows of opportunity in therapeutics (see more in the article “Comprehensive identification of mutational cancer driver genes across 12 tumor types” by Tamborero et al. on Nature). In the future, cancer will be a chronic disease controlled by an array of medicines each targeting a defective pathway of that specific tumor. Cancers will soon be classified based on their genetic profiles instead of the tissue of origin. Drug companies are already starting to adapt to this trend and new cocktails of more targeted therapies are on the horizon (Image Source: FOX News).

 

 

Can Google Help Us Extend Lifespan?

October 7th, 2013

If everyone on the Forbes company list and the world’s millionaires and billionaires simultaneously (and tragically) got cancer, or Parkinson’s (or any other complex disease), the world would probably be well on its way to finding a cure for these illnesses, thanks to the enormous wealth that would be incentivized to back those efforts (check the article “WTF Is Calico, And Why Does Google Think Its Mysterious New Company Can Defy Aging?” for more information). Finding a cure for an intractable disease requires time, enormous amounts of human and financial capital, cooperation and a lot of basic and translational research – and at least a few public-private partnerships. It’s costly, it is complex and it’s messy. Nobody thinks on how to tackle these diseases and find better treatments or even a cure; the truth is that until you get sick you don’t really care. This is why Calico, Google’s newest mad science project, is potentially interesting and it was all over the news a couple of weeks ago. Calico is a healthcare company that Google is investing in that will be able to use all the crawled information in Google’s servers and databases to seek for valuable clues for treating diseases and eventually beating death. Crunching data into actionable information is Google’s future with the driverless cars, Google Glass and other “crazy” projects from the arm of Google Labs named Google [X] that Sergey Brin leads. Calico can use Google’s reach to make health data available, actionable, organize it and create a community around it, opening unprecedented opportunities for patient engagement with health data. Big Data analytics in healthcare is having a lot of attention right now and Google couldn’t be behind. Some say this is the boldest bet yet (see more at the article “Google vs. Death” in the Cover of TIME Magazine). Calico represents the company’s largest healthcare initiative since Google Health sprinted its way into obscurity and was shut down. Larry Page says he wants to solve cancer, but as a researcher in oncology for a decade, I would say this problem is more complex than the surface of it reveals. I really think it is amazing what Google has done and it is doing, and believe it takes a company with so many resources to attack and find cures for diseases such as cancer. There are many components in Google’s history indicating that they will be able to at least help: 1) they have access to tons of data points, especially published data from scientific journals; 2) Google may not solve death or help us beat it but at least it will help us understand the aging process better using our own data in the web using time as a variable; 3) at the very least it brings all kinds of attention from industry and people, especially those already sick (see more at “What Google’s Calico Means For Healthcare”).There is still a significant gap between researchers and entrepreneurs. However, at the same time, there are now more opportunities than ever before for both sides to team up to make technological breakthroughs in healthcare, and, in turn, making those breakthroughs more accessible to the general public. So, I believe that if Calico can’t give us immortality and cure complex diseases, at least it is bringing the focus of the industries to healthcare, one of the sectors that did not have many technological breakthroughs in years. Maybe we should focus our ideas and ventures in the healthcare sector like Google is starting to do. If they are successful, we all win. But if they are not, it is just another “crazy” project from Google [X] labs that failed. We will see. (Image Source: TIME Magazine)

Chicago – an Emerging Biotech Hub

September 3rd, 2013

Article by Charlotte Chen, Ph.D. Candidate at Northwestern University

CHICAGO – While Boston and Silicon Valley seem to be the most visible biotech hubs in the US, the nation’s best kept secret in biotech may just be in the Midwest. Indeed, in 2011, the eight-state Midwestern super cluster – Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa – employed over 120,000 more employees than either California or the East Coast (Ernst & Young, 2013), with more than 377,900 employees in over 16,800 establishments. The key player in The Midwest Super Cluster is undeniably Illinois. The state is home to more than 3,500 biotech companies that employ around 81,000 people, with a gross economic output of around $98.6 billion (Illinois Government News Network, 2013). Chicago sits at the center of all this, with some of the best medical research universities in the Midwest and a vibrant biotech industry. In the Chicago metropolitan area alone, around 45,000 employees work in about one thousand biotech companies. Some big-name biotechnology companies headquartered in the greater Chicago area include Abbott Laboratories, credited with developing the world’s first HIV blood screening test in 1985 and which now has 90,000 employees across 130 countries, and Baxter Healthcare, known for its hemophilia, renal disease, and immune disorder therapies, which brought in $10.4 billion in earnings in 2006. So why does Chicago get overshadowed by its counterpart biotech hubs on the East and West coasts? One factor could be a lack of entrepreneurial tradition in biotech. Silicon Valley and Boston have created an industry culture that embraces risk-taking, and entrepreneurs expect to fail a number of times before hitting a winning idea. While the Midwest has all the expertise to drive biotech innovation, this entrepreneurial spirit is only recently beginning to flourish. In 2012, $150 million venture dollars went into biotech startups in Chicago (City of Chicago, 2013), versus $1 billion in Silicon Valley and $860 million in Boston (MIT Technology Review, 2013). Hoping to raise Chicago’s profile in the biotech world, state and city policymakers recently established two new biotech incubators, which are set to open in Chicago within the next year. The first of these incubators is the Health, Technology, and Innovation (HTI) facility, created by Governor Pat Quinn in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the goal of boosting Illinois’ economy. HTI is located at Chicago Technology Park in the city’s Near West Side, within the Illinois Medical District and in close proximity to the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, and is set to open in the summer of 2013. The State of Illinois and UIC split the bill equitably, each contributing $1.7 million for a total of $3.4 million in initial funding. HTI will provide wet and dry lab space and office space to tenants, as well as access to a network of scientists, investors, and other leaders in the biotech industry. The incubator is intended to provide a low-risk environment for academic researchers to bring their ideas out of university labs for the first time, and to see whether they can become successful ventures. The City of Chicago is also throwing its support behind the biosciences industry. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced plans to construct a biotech incubator in downtown Chicago, set to open in 2014. With this additional facility, the city hopes to increase Chicago’s national profile as a biotechnology innovation hub. The new incubator will provide a space for researchers from Chicago’s top universities to collaborate with investors and partners in industry to develop discoveries from academic research with commercial potential. It will also provide a downtown presence for major biotechnology companies in the area, most of which are located in the Northern Chicago suburbs. This new incubator will be well-supported through access to professionals with business expertise, such as Chicago Innovation Mentors and ChicagoNEXT. Chicago Innovation Mentors is an organization that pairs university faculty with industry mentors to accelerate the formation of new biotechnology ventures, and its members include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and iBio Institute/PROPEL. ChicagoNEXT is an organization created by World Business Chicago to accelerate innovation in clean tech, web and mobile technology, and biosciences. The new biotech is roughly modeled on 1871, an incubator for IT and digital startups in downtown Chicago. Chicago is also breeding homegrown entrepreneurial talent. The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship offers entrepreneurship courses, a student entrepreneurship club, business plan competitions, and entrepreneurship mentoring to its students, as does Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The University of Illinois at Chicago offers a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship, and its Liautaud Graduate School of Business offers an entrepreneurship program. While established biotech companies are by no means a new presence in Chicago, a nascent culture of innovation is emerging in the style of Silicon Valley and Boston. Perhaps with all these efforts to spark biotech innovation in Chicago, the Midwest’s “best kept secret” in biotech will be unveiled soon. (Chicago’s Skyline Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

See original article published at the Roundtable Review

Science gets a little help from the Crowd

August 11th, 2013

The basic definition of crowdsourcing says that it is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. These tasks could be online or offline, paid or for free, and they are outsourced to an undefined public. So the idea behind crowdsourcing is that the more people working on a specific project, the better, faster and more varied results will be achieved. The two common functions offered by crowdsourcing are the distribution of large sets of work, and the democratization of opinion gathering, since different groups of people will be able to participate. Interestingly, crowdsourcing channels the experts’ desire to solve a problem freely sharing the answer with everyone. Different projects in a variety of fields have been using crowdsourcing. Examples include projects like GalaxyZoo in astronomy and Encyclopedia of Life in biology. Even the toy company LEGO had its own crowdsourcing project to get input on the most common designs made by customers using their building blocks. In a similar manner, crowdsourcing has been pointed out as a solution to seek for drugs that are effective for specific diseases using big data analytics. The same way crowdsourcing uses “crowds” to solve problems, crowdfunding raises money for projects from different people, mostly via web. It gives everybody the ability to raise money from a collective group of people who are connected through the internet and want to support a specific project. Successful crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub. However, can we use both crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in Scientific Projects? Well, since science is a very closed community with several “rules”, I would say at first that it would never work. But, recent cuts in federal funding are helping it become reality. Platforms such as Microryza, founded by two University of Washington graduates in Seattle, is one of the first crowdfunding sites for science. About 80 projects have already raised a combined U$ 200,000 through Microryza. Another specific example is uBiome, which is using crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to sequence and catalogue the microbiome of different people that is willing to participate in their project. Science is typically funded by peer-reviewed grants, however with the advent of the internet, new technologies and social networks, general people is getting the power to do the same. The scientific field could gain a lot from these types of approaches. The only risk is that the public will fund projects that are around themes or topics that they can more readily understand, such as research into Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, while other projects may be ignored. We will see. I think that alternatives for federal and governmental funding such as those are really warranted. The use of “crowds” and the general public could be a nice and socialized solution to solve the funding problem in Science.

 

Big Data analytics – the future of healthcare?

July 2nd, 2013

With the cost of mapping an individual human genome poised to break several financial barriers, bringing personalized medicine closer to reality, the healthcare and life sciences industries are now grappling with managing the explosive growth of data and information. Big Data is a buzzword, or a catch-phrase, used to describe a massive volume of both structured and unstructured information that is so large that it’s difficult to process using traditional databases and software techniques. Life Sciences and Biomedicine have been highly affected by the generation of large data sets, specifically by overloads of genomics information. Applying downstream analytics in a volatile data environment, overseeing data storage and movement, and transforming the data to improve patient outcomes and quality of life are just some of the challenges faced today in this field. In this regard, more sophisticated, innovative and robust information technology is being developed to aggregate, manage, analyze and share Big Data. In order to deal with this overload of information in life sciences, the Obama Administration launched a U$200 million Project in 2012 named “Big Data Research and Development Initiative”, which aims to transform the use of Big Data for scientific discovery and biomedical research, among other areas. The White House claimed in a statement that in the same way that past Federal investments in Information Technology Research and Development have led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the web, this initiative will transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security. It is indeed critical to collaborate and use tools to facilitate the technology ecosystem to develop innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems emerging in healthcare today. This is mainly because Big Data presents a challenge that is so big and so complex that no single individual, company or institution – no matter how accomplished or illustrious – can solve it alone. Importantly, biomedical infrastructure for Big Data analytics lags behind the curve and new solutions both in hardware and software will be necessary to overcome the obstacles. Big Data in Biomedicine can pave the way in healthcare to a better understanding of people’s health and disease, especially now that mobile devices such as tablets, phones, watches and others have been implemented to collect an individual’s health information. I believe that the methods used by Facebook, Twitter, Google and other big corporations (such as commodity hardware, open source software, and ubiquitous instrumentation) to deal with big chucks of information will prove just as revolutionary for healthcare as they have for communications and retail. This new revolution could mean changes in clinical care, however challenges such as privacy of the information are a big barrier. Solutions to deal with privacy and security have been developed recently but this field is in its infancy, opening up opportunities for new ideas and technological breakthroughs. It is an exciting time now that both Information Technology and Biomedicine are converging in the Big Data era. A lot of interesting developments will happen in the next five years or so and we will need several Big Data solutions to deal with health information.

 

Celebrities, Cancer and Genetics

May 28th, 2013

It is interesting that it takes a celebrity, in this case the actress Angelina Jolie, to increase our awareness about a disease that kills millions around the world every year. The statistics is clear: one in three women will develop a breast neoplasm during their lifetime. Yes, I am talking about cancer, in this case, breast cancer. Angelina brought to the spotlight last week what nobody wants to talk about, or discuss, or think. The cover of TIME magazine on May 27 showed to the world how some decisions are bitter in our lives, especially when our loved ones suffered and died without knowing more about it (see more on TIME Magazine “The Angelina Effect“). Angelina was able to open a discussion around the world about breast cancer prevention (see the NYTimes article “My Medical Choice”). Breast Cancer is a disease that was once a malady of the “old”, but with more awareness it is clear that it can affect anybody at any age – you just need a defective gene. Genetics is key in some cases, especially when the disease runs in the family. Cancer is classified as “The Emperor of all Maladies” in the Biography of Cancer written by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This disease is as old as humans and the story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Angelina was able to expose herself in a way never seen in a Hollywood Movie that she had a main role. She was able to show the world how genetics is becoming part of our daily lives, something that not even a scientist working to find a cure for cancer is able to do. Science tells us the history of the genes involved in hereditary breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2 were identified in the 1990s, more than 20 years ago (for more information see the review article “The Genetics of Familial Breast Cancer“). Interestingly, methods to diagnose the likelihood of a person with mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 getting cancer were covered by patents owned or controlled by a company called Myriad Genetics. Myriad’s business model of exclusively offering the diagnostic test led from Myriad being a startup in 1994 to being a publicly traded company with 1,200 employees and about $500M in annual revenue in 2012. It also led to several controversies over high prices and the inability to get second opinions from other diagnostic labs, which in turn culminated in landmark lawsuits and big discussions about gene patenting (see more in the article from The GuardianAngelina Jolie’s cancer decision highlights row over genetic technology”). This is a discussion that is around for a while, since the Human Genome was sequenced in 2001. Importantly, the health care providers do not cover some of the genetic tests already available in cases like Angelina’s, since the tests are very expensive. So, how everybody with a family history for defective genetics will be tested? And how many celebrities like Angelina will take to make general people more aware of the revolution in preventive medicine that just started? I think that Angelina’s choice was the best decision, since her mother died at age 56 and her aunt just died recently of the same malady. This fuzz about Angelina’s choice was a good thing, since it is educating people about genetics, cancer and the decisions we have to make based on our family history. This could even change the scope of genetic testing for breast cancer genes, who knows? Unfortunately, somebody famous has to take the center stage to start a discussion that will probably affect every human being during his or her lifetime. Society will gain a lot with more awareness about this deadly disease. Thanks Angelina, that was a good choice for you and for all of us! (Image Source: TIME Magazine).

This Blog Post is dedicated to my brave mom Angela Falconi

Cancer Genomes and Personalized Medicine – are we there yet?

April 29th, 2013

Bioinformatics WideShot(Cropped)

Cancer is and was always a disease that frightened humankind. The diagnosis of the disease meant a death sentence some decades ago. However, things are changing for the better. Armed with the initial human genome sequence available in 2001 and hundreds of cancer genomes, we can now use targeted drugs for specific defects in cancer cells. Treatment for the disease will not be based in the tissue the cancer came from (examples include prostate, colon, breast, brain and others) like years ago, but in the genomic features of the cancer. A tumor from brain can have similar genetic defects and resemble more a tumor from prostate or even breast compared to other brain tumors. Most of these genetic flaws that have been identified with human cancer genome projects are relative newcomers to medical terminology, as are most of the anticancer drugs, still in early testing, that are aimed at them. Development of the new drugs has been affected by the falling cost and increased speed of decoding the DNA from cancer cells and the prospects of premium prices for drugs that specifically attack the molecular drivers of cancer (for more information see the article by Anne Eisenberg in the NY Times “Variations on a Gene, and Tools to Find Them”). The web is also helping in the fight against cancer. Data repositories have been created to guide doctors and patients that suffer from cancer helping them find the right drug for their disease type. One of such tools is the portal “My Cancer Genome” created by researchers at the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, United States. The website started two years ago and now has more than fifty contributors from twenty institutions all over the world. The website lists mutations in different cancer types, as well as drug therapies that may or may not be of benefit for patients. Most of the drugs described in the website are in clinical trials and only a few have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the portal is free and doctors, researchers, patients, relatives and institutions can access, easing the translation of the findings in research laboratories to the bedside of patients. The users can also select a type of cancer, such as “melanoma” and add a gene or gene defect, let’s say “BRAF,” for instance, or “lung cancer” and “BRAF,” and see all types of mutations in the BRAF gene that occur in those cancer types. The users can then check for national and international drug trials aimed at these alterations. Another internet tool that is focused in cancer patients is the website “CancerDriver”. This solution is a Search Engine connected to a database that facilitates the identification of the right biomarker for different disease outcomes. These solutions can use data crowdsourcing to identify specific disease types, leveraging information to the final consumer – the cancer patient. The sequencing of cancer genomes with accumulating information in databases and the use of internet solutions by health care professionals and patients will definitely facilitate cancer treatment. Personalized Medicine for cancer is already here. Now we have to make good use of it to help treating this deadly disease in the years to come.