National Brain Tumor Society and American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) recently partnered to organize a Cancer Systems Biology Think Tank at which world-renowned researchers in the field of cancer systems biology discussed ways to move the field forward to improve the efficiency and success of today’s cancer research enterprise.
Despite the years of work and enormous amount of resources funneled toward cancer research, approximately 90 percent of potential oncology drugs fail in late-stage clinical trials. The tremendous complexity of each individual’s cancer is often cited as a main reason for this high failure rate.
“Given the complexity and adaptability of brain tumors, an equally dynamic approach is required to combat this deadly disease – basic research methods just aren’t yielding new and effective therapies,” said N. Paul TonThat, executive director of the National Brain Tumor Society. “Because systems biology provides a more integrated view, we believe it will allow researchers to understand the heterogeneous nature of brain tumors, and ultimately predict how the cancer or individual tumor will react to potential therapies, which is what our community desperately needs.”
The Cancer System Biology Think Tank was co-chaired by Andrea Califano, Ph.D., director of Columbia University’s Initiative in Systems Biology, and Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Systems Biology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The participants, including leaders from academia, government and the pharmaceutical industry, focused their discussion on four key issues. First, defining and refining what it means to practice cancer systems biology; second, identifying areas of opportunity and the barriers to continued progress within the field of cancer systems biology; third, developing a strategic plan to move the field forward, including strategies to more efficiently translate discoveries into new therapeutic options; and last, developing a strategy to enhance awareness of the field and its unique intricacies, with the goal of increasing both federal and philanthropic funding.
Systems biology is the study of complex biological systems, like brain tumors, as integrated and interacting networks of their components. The approach necessitates collaboration across disciplines including, molecular biology, genomics, physics, computer science, mathematics, and engineering to understand genes and their mechanisms of action with an integrated view. Knowing how genes develop, interact, and change as part of a system, will enable researchers to impart a more predictive approach to therapy development, thus enhancing efficacy and success.
Members of the Systems Biology Think Tank included experts from: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Columbia University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, GNS Healthcare, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, McGill Center for Bioinformatics, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Inc., National Cancer Institute, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Tufts University School of Medicine, University of California – San Diego, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and Washington University School of Medicine.