Nonprofit organization aims to make pharmacogenomic database freely available to research community.

Eli Lilly, Merck & Co., and Pfizer are teaming up to set up the Asian Cancer Research Group (ACRG), a nonprofit company dedicated to research and drug discovery for the most common cancers in Asia. The ACRG will initially focus on lung and gastric cancers, which are two of the most common cancers in Asia.

It aims to generate a pharmacogenomic cancer database comprising data from about 2,000 lung and gastric cancer tissue samples. The resulting data will be made publicly available to researchers and expanded through the addition of clinical data from a longitudinal analysis of patients. The hope is that a comparison of contrasting genomic cancer signatures will help point the way to new therapeutic approaches.

The ACRG will initiallly establish collaborative relationships throughout the Asian region to collect tissue samples and data. “The ACRG is about sharing information for the common good,” stresses Kerry Blanchard, M.D., Ph.D., vp and leader of drug development in China for Lilly.

“This company will aid researchers around the world to develop diagnostics, tailor current treatments, and develop novel therapies to improve outcomes for affected patients with lung, gastric, and perhaps other forms of cancer.” Lilly will be responsible for ultimately providing the data to the research community through an open-source outlet managed by its Singapore research site.

“Environmental and genetic factors are believed to underlie the dramatic differences in the molecular subtypes and incidence of cancers in Asia and other parts of the world,” points out Neil Gibson, Ph.D., CSO of Pfizer’s oncology research unit. “Although some progress has been achieved in the last few years in understanding and treating these cancers, they remain a huge unmet need and a disproportionate health burden to Asian patients.”

Up to 40% of lung cancer patients in Asia demonstrate an EGFR mutation that is relatively rare in Western patients, the companies point out. This leads to resistance to some existing cancer therapies.

Meanwhile, gastric cancer has reached what the firms suggest is near-epidemic proportions in some countries in Asia, despite its relatively low incidence in Western countries. Consequently, gastric cancer is actually the second largest cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, estimated at over 630,000 deaths per year, the partners add.    

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