What if tumors were the solution to cancer, instead of the problem?
StoreMyTumor aims to offer tumor tissue collection and preservation to every cancer patient. The co-located Swiss and Delaware Valley company has a personal passion to give each patient the option of storing their tumor/tissue after a surgery, biopsy, or paracentesis, which can then open up additional diagnostic and treatment options.
As someone whose tumor was genetically tested, involved in treatment decisions, and ultimately an integral part of my first clinical trial, I can vouch firsthand for the value tumor tissue can provide in guiding the treatment process and ultimately fighting the cancer it is a part of.
I spoke with the company's founder, Michel Sadaka, and development manager, Patrick deGrouchy, about their unique service and how it can transform oncology treatments by utilizing an oft-discard but genetically-valuable piece of the cancer puzzle – the actual tumor that makes up a person's diagnosis, and, potentially, their cure.
Tell me how this concept started and came to fruition.
StoreMyTumor was founded in 2011 because the standard of care is simply not enough, and there are available (experimental, but safe) treatments available for patients to consider and choose. It all started with a simple realization that 9 out of 10 patients hoping to participate in trials that require live cancer cells echoed the same words: "I wish my doctor told me about the importance of my tumor tissue at the time of my surgery."
I have written about personalized medicine – my first trial involved removing a tumor to harvest the t-cells inside — and how the rise in immunotherapy pushes cancer treatments closer to individualized therapies. How can StoreMyTumor accelerate this push?
I don't think I need to stress the importance of personalizing treatment; all oncology treatments are heading in that direction. Personalizing treatments STARTS with access to tissue, so it the MOST important first step. Without it, there is NO personalization.
What are the areas of benefit for storing tumor cells?
With access to viable cancer tissue or cells, clinicians can design personalized and more effective treatments, including:
- Personalized vaccines – Experimental vaccines aim to stimulate the immune system to fight residual cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery and chemotherapy. By eliminating these residual cancer cells you decrease the chances of cancer regrouping and therefore help the patient stay in remission longer.
- T-cell therapy – Adoptive Cell Transfer (ACT) started at the National Institute of Health under Dr. Steven Rosenberg as an experimental treatment for melanoma, and has expanded into several other indications. Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL, which is a subset of ACT) aim to harness the killer T-Cells to recognize the tumor and use your own immune system to fight the cancer cells with little or no side effects. (T.J. Note – TIL was the main component of my first clinical trial, above)
- Chemotherapy sensitivity – A genetic test of the tumor tissue aims to identify drug and chemotherapy choices that will likely not work, and prioritize those that will have a higher chance of generating a response. Chemotherapy has toxic side effects which weaken the body and decrease its ability to fight cancer. If the right one isn't chosen, the patient will suffer the side effects with no benefit.
- Mouse xenografts – Implanting the tumor into a humanized mouse allows the entire tumor microenvironment to be tested and explored in a laboratory setting, rather than experimenting on the patient's body. Using experimental or combination drugs that might work (or drugs that have previously worked on other indications) helps to identify the best drug(s) without subjecting the patient to the rigors of treatment.
- Genetic Sequencing – Identifying unique markers on your tumor help your oncologist target the cancer cells more precisely, subsequently sparing healthy cells. Targeted therapies help match the right drug to the right tumor, and can open up treatment options beyond the standard of care.
WHY and HOW should someone with cancer consider this?
Up to 85% of cancer patients do not respond to traditional treatments, or respond but later develop resistance and/or recur. Personalization is the key to better treatments. Having access to the tumor opens additional doors (and excellent ones) that anyone fighting cancer should consider. Patients can request this service from their surgeons – StoreMyTumor has never had a surgeon that declined to participate. The problem today is simply awareness; we aim to give all patients the option to choose.
The field is vast for one oncologist to know everything available, especially at the rate of scientific progress today. We are in a unique position to have visibility into the academic experimental programs trying to advance and personalize treatment options. We always encourage patients to consult their oncologists about StoreMyTumor, but the average oncologist is not familiar with many of the experimental therapies beyond the standard of care, many that relate to cellular immunotherapy.
WHO would be a good candidate for using the StoreMyTumor services?
Tumor preservation is a good choice for every cancer patient who:
Although StoreMyTumor focus on patients, we have three audiences to target:
- Patients – who can preserve tissue for better personalized treatments
- Community hospitals – that hope to offer innovative and advanced treatments beyond the standard of care (especially hospitals that are not clinical trial sites)
- Scientists – wanting to accrue patients for their trials (since many close for lack of recruitment)