An initial dataset characterising the responses of 350 cancer cell samples to 18 oncology drugs including erlotnib (Tarceva), sunitinib (Sutent), sorafenib (Nexavar) and imatinib (Glivec) has been released by the Genomics of Drug Sensitivity project, a joint initiative between the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in the US.

The first results from the project are available on the Genomics of Drug Discovery website at www.sanger.ac.uk/genetics/CGP/translation and are a step towards building a comprehensive database to underpin the shift towards targeted and personalised medicine in oncology.

Over the course of the five-year programme, some 1,000 cancer cell lines will be exposed to 400 anticancer treatments – alone or in combination and ranging from known anticancers to compounds in preclinical development – to identify genetic changes that can inform clinical decisions and to determine the most effective single therapies or combinations in the laboratory.

The results will include correlating drug sensitivity with measurements of mutations in key cancer genes, structural changes in cancer cells and variations in gene activity, making the project the largest of its kind to date, the Sanger Institute says.

“We have already studied more gene mutation-drug interactions than any previous work but, more importantly, we are putting in place a mechanism to ensure rapid dissemination of our results to enable worldwide collaborative research,” commented Dr Ultan McDermott, faculty investigator at the Institute.

The participating scientists have chosen cell lines that include common cancers such as breast, colorectal and lung. Each cell line is genetically fingerprinted and the researchers will take promising leads from the cancer samples to be verified in clinical specimens. These findings will be used to design clinical studies in which treatment is selected based on the patient’s cancer mutation spectrum, the Sanger Institute notes.

The Genomics of Drug Sensitivity project was launched in December 2008 with funding from a five-year Wellcome Trust strategic award. It draws on Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center’s experience in experimental molecular therapeutics and the Sanger Institute’s expertise in large-scale genomics, sequencing and informatics.