RCSI partnership aims to advance predictive tests for common blood cancer

18 Sep 2020

Dr Siobhan Glavey, principal investigator of the research. Image: RCSI

RCSI’s new partnership with Skyline Dx will combine genomics testing and next-generation sequencing tech with the goal of advancing predictive tests for multiple myeloma.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has announced a new partnership led by the university’s researchers that aims to advance predictive tests for multiple myeloma, which is the second most common blood cancer in Ireland.

The study, which combines genomic testing and next-generation sequencing technology, will be carried out at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, and will be run through Blood Cancer Network Ireland, with several other cancer hospitals in Ireland participating.

It represents a collaboration between RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and biotech company Skyline Dx, with funding support from Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb company Celgene, and Janssen.

Researching multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow that normally produce antibodies to help fight infection. Approximately 250 patients are diagnosed with this condition in Ireland each year.

Due to the complex nature of the disease, patients often require multidisciplinary medical input and myeloma drugs are among the highest cost therapies worldwide, according to RCSI. The outlook for patients has greatly improved with newer treatments, but it is still considered an incurable disease.

According to RCSI, predicting the course of the disease and guiding treatment choice in newly diagnosed patients is one of the major challenges that comes with this form of cancer.

One test that can help predict patient outcomes is the minimal residual disease test, which is performed on the patient’s DNA at diagnosis with next-generation sequencing. This can detect if there are trace amounts of the cancer remaining in a patient after treatment and has shown to be predictive of long-term outcomes in several studies.

Another test has been developed by SkylineDx, which uses a novel gene-expression-based test to guide prognosis, called the MMprofiler.

‘Provide clinicians with invaluable information’

At Beaumont and RCSI, in collaboration with SkylineDx, scientists have implemented these gene-based tests to guide prognosis.

The study aims to combine these two highly predictive modalities to provide a personalised medicine approach for patients. It establishes if patients have a high risk of relapsing and has been increasingly adopted in global clinical trials as a more predictive and robust marker than older tests.

RCSI said that in-depth analysis of genetic risk could enable doctors to identify which patients are at high-risk of relapse after a stem cell transplant. With this knowledge, it may be possible to refine treatment for individual patients based on their specific disease molecular signature.

Dr Siobhan Glavey, honorary senior lecturer at RCSI and consultant haematologist at Beaumont, is acting as the project’s principal investigator.

“If our study can definitively determine which patients will benefit from certain treatments, and when, it will provide clinicians with invaluable information that will lead to better outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma,” she said.

“As we move towards personalised medicine, studies like ours will hopefully become more and more common and will help to target high-cost effective therapies with greater precision. The study will initially enrol a small number of patients and follow them over time to test this theory.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic