What if cancer treatment targeted tumors not based on their location in a patient’s body, but rather on a patient’s unique genetic code? What if this code allowed oncologists to identify the medications that would work best for each individual, including cutting-edge therapies that are just being developed? And what if patients here in the Gulf South could access this type of treatment right here at home?
Through the Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program (PCTP), these “what-ifs” are becoming reality – and saving lives. Precision cancer therapy begins with the premise that the most effective treatment can be different for every patient. It attempts to better diagnose, treat and cure cancer by understanding how genes, the environment and lifestyle factors contribute to disease and affect outcomes. Experts then translate this information into new tests and therapies that help them detect disease early based on risk factors and design treatments customized for the individual.
PCTP is powered by relationships with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Strata Oncology, which allow us to offer free, next-generation genome sequencing to nearly every cancer patient we see. Based on a patient’s genomic profile, we then attempt to match patients with ongoing clinical trials that may help them.
“In some cases, this allows us to pair patients with drugs that we would not have otherwise considered,” says Marc Matrana, MD, Medical Director, Ochsner PCTP. “And in many cases, it allows us to take that genomic information and stratify patients into trials. For patients, that can literally mean the difference between life and death.”
Participating in early-phase trials offers many advantages to patients. “Patients have access to the most innovative therapies on a clinical trial,” Dr. Matrana says. “They have access to an expert treatment team. And they also tend to have better outcomes.”
But before PCTP began, participating in a clinical trial was out of reach for many in the Gulf South. The closest hospitals conducting early-phase clinical trials for cancer treatments were in Houston, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama. Now, we are bringing promising early-phase clinical trials to our region, helping patients stay close to family during treatment and follow-up.
While the therapies prescribed to PCTP patients are highly customized, Ochsner’s overall treatment approach to cancer is broad and holistic. Multidisciplinary care allows patients to work with a team of specialists, including surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and more. A care team may also include less obvious partners such as nutritionists, psychologists and even yoga instructors. “Outcomes are better when an integrated approach is taken,” says Brian Moore, MD, Medical Director of the Ochsner Cancer Institute. “We focus on the whole patient, not just treating the tumor.”
PCTP has ramped up in record time, exceeding its goals in terms of the number of patients enrolled in clinical trials and number of lives saved. Notes TGEN Physician in Chief Daniel Von Hoff, MD, “It’s based on excellent patient care. And that’s what it’s all about when you are using investigational new therapies.” Going forward, PCTP hopes to bring trials to an even larger population. Says Dr. Matrana, “We’re extremely happy and very hopeful for a bright future.”