The next generation of customized cancer treatment
The next generation of customized cancer treatment
The research conducted by Dr. Ravid Straussman of the Weizmann Institute focuses on customizing the most effective treatment for each patient. Curesponse has developed an experimental technology that is now available to the general public in Israel and in additional countries. The key? In addition to rapid genetic mapping, this technology also analyzes the efficacy of the treatments on living tissue from the patient himself. And the results? Within two weeks.
At the last prestigious conference of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), Curesponse presented findings that could drive significant progress in how the medical community selects cancer treatments. The findings, which were collected in collaboration with physicians from Sheba, Kaplan, Hadassah and Beilinson hospitals in Israel, show that the technology that the company is developing can predict the response to cancer treatment at an accuracy of between 87% and 96%. The study's findings included treatments for bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and sarcomas. We sat down for a conversation with the company's scientific founder, Dr. Ravid Straussman, a physician and cancer researcher from the Weizmann Institute.
“We're less interested in why a drug may work, but rather, whether it actually works.”
Today we know that every patient responds differently to cancer treatment, even if at issue is the exact same type of tumor. Choosing the right treatment for each patient can save precious time, avoid unnecessary side effects and also, of course, improve the treatment outcomes. Dr. Straussman, whose current research focuses on understanding resistance to cancer treatment, explains that two groups of tests were developed in recent years in order to improve medical teams’ ability to provide recommendations to patients: "Non-functional tests are more prevalent today. This group also includes the known genetic tests. These tests analyze genetic information from tumor cells that have already died. Millions of patients worldwide have already used these tests and they help a small percentage of them – about 6 to 8% – depending on the type of tumor. It's not a negligible percentage, but still far from adequate. We want to help a much broader group of patients.”
The test developed by Dr. Straussman belongs to the second group of tests – “functional tests.”
“These tests analyze the success of the treatment on living cells taken from the tumor under
Essentially, the Curesponse test takes a series of drugs, tries them on tumor cells and analyzes which of them is the most effective: “While non-functional tests analyze why a particular treatment might work, the Curesponse tests want to understand whether the treatment works or not, even if we can’t always understand why.” Dr. Straussman simplifies the main difference between the tests:
“We want to solve a problem for a patient, and it is less important for us to provide him or her with the academic explanation for why a particular treatment may or may not work.”
What does Curesponse succeed in doing differently?
“The technological innovation is in our ability to grow patients’ cancer cells outside the body, along with all of the surrounding tissues: immune system cells, connective tissues, blood vessels and nerves. In recent years, we have ascertained that the response to cancer treatment depends on these tissues as much as it depends on the cancer cells themselves. In fact, the test analyzes the effectiveness of the treatment not only on the cancer cells, but also on all of the surrounding tissue.”
How long does it take until patients and medical teams obtain an answer?
The technological advancement achieved by the company enables it to provide patients and medical teams with a rapid response: “We can provide the results of both a comprehensive genetic test and a functional test within two weeks. We can call the patient within a short timeframe and tell him/her, “We've tested a number of drugs on your tumor; these are the results; now you can reach a decision.”
There are so many possible treatments. How do you know which treatments to test in the first place?
The test analyzes different treatments for each patient: “We base ourselves on several sources, including the standard protocols for each type of tumor and a rapid genetic test that we perform on a large number of genes. We complete this test in less than 48 hours and it can direct us to treatments worth testing on the tissue.”
The recommendations of the medical staff who are familiar with the patient are also of great importance. Dr. Straussman says that the test is very well received by physicians and that there is often collaboration with the medical team during the examination. This collaboration begins even before the test is performed:
“We coordinate with the surgeons to receive fresh tissue even before the surgery or biopsy. At the same time or afterwards, we can coordinate with the oncology team what treatments we will try on each tissue.”
Curesponse’s ‘classic patients” are patients who are offered several treatment alternatives
“Our test is less suitable today for those diagnosed with a disease for which a therapeutic protocol with very high chances of success already exists,” explains Dr. Straussman. “Our ‘classic’ patients are patients who have been offered several treatment options that are all legitimate, but difficult to decide between them. Another relevant type of patient is anyone whose medical team has already exhausted the lines of treatment, does not know how to proceed, and the test indicates a drug with a surprising response.”
Despite the test’s potential of selecting a treatment that has been found to be effective on the patient’s tissue, it does not always succeed. “We certainly have cases where we have been unable to find any effective treatment for the patient. This happens more among patients who have undergone several treatment lines and have already developed resistance,” explains Dr. Straussman. There are also instances when a biopsy was received that did not contain any cancer cells. Unfortunately, also in such instances, it is not possible to help the patient.
What is the dream? To obtain results from hundreds of patients and receive broad acceptance in the medical community
Although Curesponse already offers the test and it is even recognized for reimbursement by some private insurance companies, it is important to Dr. Straussman to emphasize that this is still a new technology that is being tested within the framework of clinical trials.
The company is conducting trials with the participation of hundreds of patients in Israel, and soon, also from overseas
“in order to obtain enough data that will enable widespread use of the test already at an early stage of the disease.”