Research institutions in the country would be contributing towards the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) project that involves preparing the genome sequence of at least 500 cancers from each cancer site that have clinical importance.

Across ten countries

Spread across ten countries, India's mandate in the consortium is to provide the databank for oral cancer genome sequence. Each member country of the consortium would provide a detailed data on genomic changes in at least one site specific or sub-type of cancer. Studies in each member country should be built around the same standards of data collection and analysis.

Since the country has maximum number of head and neck cancers, of which oral cancers constitute about 30 per cent of cancers found in males, the project would involve taking samples 500 each from patients and normal individuals.

Such a project would be helpful in finding biomarkers which could help in prediction and prognosis of the disease, biomarkers for response of the tumours to various drugs and also find mutations that have occurred in the cells that resulted in the cancerous growth.

“The comprehensive information could provide molecular targets for the drug discovery programmes and help in designing molecular medicine,” said Dr.Rita Mulherkar. Dr. Mulherkar, is a Senior Scientist at the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC), and President of the Indian Association of Cancer Research (IACR).

It is estimated that every country may have to shell out $20 million for the project that may take about a decade to complete the cancer genome project as it would require analysing 500 cancerous and 500 normal tissues.

The next generation genome sequencing machines are expected to be brought in for the project by the end of the year. "We have already started collecting surgical tissues and bio-specimens in the Bio-repository at ACTREC,” said Dr.Mulherkar.

The new technology can come up with the whole genome sequencing of cancer in just a few weeks, she added. The ICGC, based at the Ontario Cancer Research Institute, has ten members that include Australia, Canada, China, France, European Commission, India, Japan, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States.

Gene therapy is definitely going to be the medicine of future, said Dr.Mulherkar, who is part of the committee of the Cancer Biology sub group under the DBT's Chronic Disease Biology task force.

There are many hurdles in preparing gene therapy reagents in the country, she said. There is a lot of research initiative here but the desire to translate it into clinical practice does not exist.

It is much too expensive for academic institutions to prepare clinical grade reagents with the stringent good manufacturing practice (GMP) norms.

China's advances

Only China, besides the U.S. has made advances in making the gene therapy drugs.

Though the drug called Advexin produced in the U.S. is awaiting clearance, China has come out with the first ever gene therapy drug approved by any governmental agency called Gendecine for head and neck cancer.

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