Every year nearly 13 million people in the world are diagnosed with cancer. 7.6 million die from it, making it the leading cause of death in developed countries and the second leading cause of death in the developing world.
While cures for cancer are hard to come by, there are promising avenues for diagnosis. Cancer biomarkers are one of them; they are molecular aberrations found in the tumors that predict the aggressiveness of a disease or the response to a treatment. Unfortunately, too few patients are tested for biomarkers and too many with identiﬁed biomarkers are not referred to the right drug or the right trial.
Enter CancerDriver, a free repository of cancer biomarkers intended to improve access to biomarker information for patients, physicians, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies. CancerDriver contains a database of all known biomarkers in oncology. It can be found on the web and soon on iOS and Android mobile platforms.
We had a chance to speak with Jean-Emmanuel Bibault and Charles Ferté, Co-Founders of CancerDriver, to discuss this revolutionary site.
Ravi Parikh, Medgadget: Could you give us a bit of your career backgrounds? How did you become involved with CancerDriver?
Jean-Emmanuel: I’m a radiation oncology resident in France. I already had a strong technical background in coding both websites and mobile apps. Charles and I were convinced that oncology was truly about to be revolutionized by personal approaches. But we felt that the relevant informations were still hard to find and select and there was no easy database of all known biomarkers for the physician, the pharmacist or the patient to use. We wanted to democratize all this knowledge. Charles came up with the concept for CancerDriver and we began to work in February 2012.
Charles: I am a medical oncologist and now I am working as a research postdoctoral fellow in the genomics field in Seattle. During my medical training, I have been increasingly thrilled by the advent of personalized medicine approaches. Indeed, both patients and oncologists are now facing a small revolution. Over the past 3 decades, only one-size fits all approaches were used whereas now there are a great number of biomarkers and anticancer drugs available! However, this change of paradigm will only translate at bedside if only the right drugs are given to the right tumors. CancerDriver is a tool readily adapted to this revolution: it is a collaborative effort where biomarkers knowledge is constantly introduced and curated for their links with drug response and clinical traits. Both patients and doctors can access this information.
Medgadget: Tell us a little bit about CancerDriver and what it offers cancer researchers.
Jean-Emmanuel: CancerDriver is a comprehensive database of all known biomarkers in oncology. But it doesn’t simply list all of them; you can look for them with a search engine by selecting your patients’ characteristics. The innovative search engine used will then give the most relevant markers and all the related information: associated prognosis, prediction of treatment response, therapy suggestion, ongoing trial, published papers. However the true challenge behind CancerDriver was to find a way to keep it up-to-date. That’s when we came up with the idea to make it collaborative and to reward the users who added new biomarkers. So, there’s also an important social component to the site. It is so difficult for oncology researchers or physicians to find the “right biomarker”, given the ever expanding litterature, that the best way to select them is to rely on human discussions and ratings. That’s why every biomarker can be rated and discussed directly inside the website.
Charles: The most compelling feature of CancerDriver is indeed the fact it is constantly up to date and it publicly delivers the breadth available knowledge around biomarkers in oncology. We deeply believe that this knowledge is not restricted to the oncologist’s community and we therefore designed CancerDriver as a very practical tool for both doctors and patients. In that regard, another very innovative feature of CancerDriver is its commitment to accelerate the access of patients to clinical trials. Any one – patient or doctor – is welcome to look for a particular biomarker and interrogate where are the closest active clinical trials aimed to target the searched molecular aberration. Finally, one call also be directed to the original publications related to the biomarkers and ultimately connect with the original researchers.
Medgadget: You mention that biomarkers are the future of oncology. Why do you believe this is so?
Jean-Emmanuel: We take the term “biomarkers” in a very broad sense that includes personal genomics for instance. We strongly believe that tailored treatment will allow, in the not-so-distant future, better tolerated and more efficient treatments. There’s not one cancer, or even one histology, each tumor is unique and even within tumor you can find heterogeneity. Biomarkers will help researcher, pharmacist, physicians for the benefit of the patients. If I wanted to be a little bit provocative, I would say that patients will ultimately have their own dynamic tumor ID-card. We want to be the one who provide the best ID card there is. Patients could eventually be able to directly download and synthetize the right drug for themselves. There is a lot of talk about 3D-printing, what about drug-printing?
Charles: So far, most of the anticancer drugs have a not satisfying response rate of 15-30 %. There is also an increasing number of drug available, which are also responsible of high cost and public health issues. The true challenge is then to allocate the right drug to the right tumor and to the right patient. Such strategies can dramatically increase the response rate and the cure of the patients. CancerDriver definitely brings this knowledge to your fingertips!
Medgadget: How do you envision researchers using the CancerDriver database on a day-to-day basis?
Jean-Emmanuel: The best research is the research that can be translated to the clinic with a true impact for patient. We want to bring to the researchers that clinical point of view by showing them which biomarkers have already made a difference in the clinical setting and which one could have the potential to do so. The search engine will certainly help them to do that.
Charles: We want CancerDriver to strengthen the connections between researchers with the patients. Using CancerDriver, researchers can find the up to date knowledge related to the clinical and drug association with any biomarker. This information is usually not trivial to access. In addition, the researcher can also look for the clinical trials that are active for his drug or biomarker of interest and ultimately engage new collaborations. Finally, CancerDriver is a place where researchers and patients or citizens can directly connect with each other through the offered community tools.
Medgadget: You mention that each biomarker can be shared with other networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. What is the rationale for this, and what is the effect of putting this information in patients’ hands?
Jean-Emmanuel: Beyond researchers and physicians, we really want to touch the patients. We strongly believe in patient empowerment. With these sharing features, we hope patients and support groups will discover and discuss these markers and hopefully find treatments they would otherwise not have known of. It could also be seen as a tool to find relevant clinical trials.
Charles: We believe again that this knowledge should not be restricted to the doctors only. The patient’s – and more broadly the citizens – have to be aware of the change of paradigm in oncology. The information needs to be shared to improve patieonts cure…and we are in an absolute need for better results in oncology! We believe CancerDriver is a way to approach citizens and patients by educated the greater number of people. The modern patient is a key actor in the war against cancer.
Medgadget: What has been the general response to the site since you launched in 2012 from physicians, researchers, and patients?
Jean-Emmanuel: We have received many reaction from researchers, physicians and patients advocacy groups. Everybody’s very enthusiastic about the possibilities that the website offers. We still have to reach the patients themselves, which is the hardest part, because the concept of biomarkers and their interest for treatment is not obvious for everybody. That’s why we’re still working to better explain what they are and spread the word about the website among patients communities.
Charles: Overall, we received a great enthusiasm from all the communities: patients doctors and researchers!
Medgadget: How often do you update the site with new biomarkers?
Jean-Emmanuel: The website already features over a hundred biomarkers for every organs. Whenever there is a new and interesting marker, we add it to the database, so there is no specific schedule. We also invite anyone to register to the site and add new biomarkers!
Charles: As Jean-Emmanuel just mentioned, the backbone of our strategy is to deliver constantly updated and evolving information. So the website is constantly up to date! This palliates one key problem of reviews in the medical literature, which are deprecated the day of the publication!
Medgadget: What are the future plans for the site?
Jean-Emmanuel: We are working on creating a mobile version for the site and bringing geolocalization into it. The idea would be to provide a map of the nearest clinical trials depending on your tumor characteristics in order to accelerate patient inclusions and clinical research. The site also needs constant updates to keep it up to date and we hope we’ll be able to bring people in to help us with it.
Charles: We are also planning to release soon an innovative feature designed to enhance the collaborations between users that share the same interests. Ultimately, this will strengthen the community and increase the overall knowledge.
Medgadget: Do you have any other comments?
Jean-Emmanuel: We want to thank Medgadget, this is truly an honor to be featured on your website! Feel free to follow CancerDriver on twitter (@cancerdriver) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/cancerdriver).
Charles: Thank you very much for your interest! What a privilege to get the attention of the Medgadget editors and readership!
White paper: CancerDriver: Cancer Biomarkers Made Easy