Personalized medicine to save lung cancer patients

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The way cancer patients are treated is changing dramatically because of work being done here in Tucson. A recent agreement between Ventana medical systems and Pfizer provides a test and drug to fight a deadly form of lung cancer.

1.6 Million people world wide are diagnosed with lung cancer, that's 200,000 in the U.S. Alone.

Until recently the positive reaction to treatment was a dreary 20 percent. Those at Ventana considered that unacceptable.

"The disease of cancer is many genetic diseases within one cancer, so you have to attack all of these different diseases with in one cancer," said Doug Ward the Vice President and General Manager, Ventana.

Right now at Ventana they are looking at one particular gene abnormality that is the cause of five percent of all non-small cell lung cancers.

"This gene actually gets flipped around and that flipping creates the abnormality," said Eric Walk, Chief Medical Officer at Ventana.

In Hiro Nitta's lab he can test for an over production of protein they call ALK. This signifies the gene mutation.

"Brown staining is the ALK protein," explains Nitta.

Patients with this mutation, who take Pfizer drug Xalkori have a 60% response rate on average according to Walk.

"This has been an revolution in career therapy in the last 10 years," said Walk.

In the past drugs that treat such a relatively small form of cancer had a hard time making it to market but walk says 5 percent of lung cancer patients is 10,000 people, and that's enough to find a cure.

"This idea for Ventana started with a commitment to an individual patient and how much information we can provide to them," said Dr. Tom Grogan, Founder of Ventana.

Ventana's approach to personalized medicine is bringing a standardized test and collaborating drug to market in a way that is practical for everyday use, everywhere in the world. Ventana is a Roche company but has recently made six deals with external pharmaceutical drug companies on drug development.

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