Precision Oncology

“Physicians have always recognized that every patient is unique, and physicians have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals. You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type — that was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to our genetic code was just as easy, just as standard? What if figuring out the right dose of medicine was as simple as taking our temperature?”
Barack Obama, 2015

Precision oncology or personalized oncology aims to offer individualized treatment to each cancer patient by applying a comprehensive molecular, cellular, and functional analysis of tumors. We now know that biological properties differ greatly, not only from cancer to cancer but also from patient to patient.

One of the core competencies of our department is to investigate individual tumors in detail within the framework of specific programs and studies, and to provide access to customized, personalized treatment to patients. In addition to the identification of new targeted drugs and the definition of rational drug combinations, we also support the precise use of previously established forms of treatment such as conventional chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical procedures.

Regarding the systematic implementation of precision oncology at NCT Heidelberg, we launched the MASTER (Molecularly Aided Stratification for Tumor Eradication Research) Program in 2013, and it has been implemented at all Partner Sites of the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK) since 2016. In the NCT/DKTK MASTER Program, we examine the value of comprehensive characterization (currently whole-genome and RNA sequencing and genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation) of individual tumors in young adults with advanced-stage cancers and patients with rare tumors. Drawing on a multidisciplinary workflow, we have analyzed over 1,300 cases thus far and held discussions in a molecular tumor board that meets twice a week, and personalized treatment options have been identified for more than 80% of patients.

To investigate the clinical significance of a comprehensive biological stratification of malignant tumors and to allow patients early access to individualized treatment options, we engage in close cooperation with the NCT Clinical Trial Center directed by Prof. Richard Schlenk and Dr. Andreas Eisenmenger to develop innovative therapy studies that connect directly to the MASTER Program.

The molecular, cellular, and functional data collected in the MASTER Program not only are included in the treatment of patients but are also made available for applied basic research in the sense of “reverse translation”. The experimental work of the laboratory scientists in our department lead to a better understanding of different cancers and, in turn, pave the way for new pathogenetically oriented therapeutic strategies.

In addition to the importance of a multifaceted diagnostic and therapeutic platform that covers all translational aspects of modern cancer medicine, the success of the MASTER Program illustrates, in particular, the added value of an intensive exchange of information and expertise within the framework of a national consortium of precision oncology centers of excellence.