A Transformation in Cancer Care

In 2005, on the heels of the first human genome sequenced, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), an effort to systemically characterize the genomic events that cause cancer, was funded by the NCI alongside several other international efforts with a common goal: to enable scientists around the globe to use genomic information to develop better ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating many types of cancer.

Our founders, Eric Lander, Todd Golub, Matthew Meyerson and Levi Garraway, were key leaders in these efforts, and it was not long before they realized how important and transformative these research findings would be in the routine care of patients. Not only were they witnessing this rapid explosion in information that was leading to a better understanding of how cancer forms and develops, but even in the very early stages of the effort, they received requests from physicians and patients around the world asking to have their tumors sequenced, hopeful that some clue might be discovered to help their case. It was becoming clear that there was a moral imperative to bring this information into the day in and day out clinical setting where patients could benefit from these developments.

The real world brought its own set of challenges: tissue samples with small amounts of cancer tissue, deciding which genes were most relevant to sequence, achieving and proving the accuracy required for a test that’s being applied in a clinical setting, and interpreting the wealth of information to make it clinically relevant for a busy, practicing physician.

Dr. Garraway’s OncoMap test, utilizing mass spectrometry technology to identify point mutations in any tumor, reflected the fundamental shift in defining cancer not by the site of origin, but by the underlying genomic events driving its growth. However, it was the progress in next generation sequencing (NGS) that allowed for the accurate detection of all classes of genomic alterations at a commercially viable cost. Developments in NGS paved the way for a business model that could effectively, efficiently and sustainably bring this new understanding of cancer, at scale, to patients.

Alexis Borisy, with his experience in building successful biotechnology companies, joined the team to bring this vision to life. Foundation Medicine was finally born in 2010 of the founders’ foresight to offer an end-to-end solution for physicians, in the day-to-day practice of clinical oncology, to systematically obtain tumor information and efficiently interpret the specific molecular alterations associated with each patient’s disease.

The field has continued to progress at lightning speed over the last several years. The explosion in new data about the biology of cancer continues along with the growing focus of pharmaceutical companies to develop targeted therapies combatting the specific DNA defects that make cells cancerous. In the two years since FoundationOne was launched, we have run tests for >15,000 patients, reflecting the increased demand for this type of product and service. And in the same time, many more targeted therapies have been approved and even more are in clinical trials. The age of precision medicine has arrived, and we look forward to working with the broader cancer community to continue to drive its progress.