139th National Cancer Advisory Board
UPDATE: HUMAN CANCER GENOME ATLAS PROJECT—DR. ANNA BARKER
Dr. Barker prefaced the update by stating that The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA) is an example of the convergence of science and technology to achieve insights into the cancer cell that have the potential to produce valuable dividends for cancer research. She reminded members that the TCGA is a 3-year pilot project of the NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to increase the Nation’s comprehensive understanding of the genetic basis of cancer. It is anticipated that TCGA’s integrated database of molecular and clinical information will provide scientists with unprecedented opportunities to discover and develop a new generation of targeted diagnostics, therapies, and preventives for cancer. Conversations with the NHGRI on this project began about 2.5 years ago as NCI’s Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (CGAP) was coming into maturity. The intent of the conversations was to ascertain next steps in this research area, and NCI’s interests coincided with NHGRI interest in medical sequencing. Dr. Barker noted that cancer is the first disease that will have dedicated to it over the next 3 years the largest contingent of molecular and clinical scientists ever brought together to look at the genomic basis of specific diseases.
The enabling rationale for TCGA was based largely on achievements of CGAP, and other programs which include the identification of gene families and pathways, development of robust genomic analysis technologies and early indications that somatic mutations are important potential targets. Dr. Barker pointed out that the real impact of these various achievements already has been felt, and it is known that some of these targets can lead to the creation of a new generation of targeted interventions. She gave assurance that this initiative is not a technology project; rather it has been designed to integrate the work of biologists and genomicists in the most optimal way. TCGA development milestones since September 2003 have included many meetings about the project, involving large contingents of researchers and other stakeholders from across the community. This was supplemented and reinforced by the report of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee’s report to the NCAB in February 2005 and the NCAB recommendation to proceed with the project. The NCI-NHGRI Working Group was formed, and meetings were held to solicit input from the extramural community in preparation for designing TCGA.
During the last year, significant progress has been made in developing the project and issuing parts of it to the public in the form of RFIs, RFAs, and RFPs. The Biospecimen Core Resource RFA was issued in February 2006, proposals in response have been reviewed, and the selection process is final. An RFA for the Cancer Genome Characterization Centers (CGCCs) was issued in March, and applications were received from the major academic medical centers around the country. These Centers constitute the biggest part of this project in that they will be delving into the biology and starting to integrate the genomic changes that are found with the biology. Issues arose in regard to the possibility that patients could be identified in the process of integrating sequencing and clinical data. A Data Release Workshop was held with representatives of the scientific and patient advocate communities, and reasonable and effective solutions have been identified. Another of the biggest issues that arose was selecting the first tumors that are sequenced in the Cancer Genome Atlas. Dr. Barker noted that that selected tumor types to be sequenced in the TCGA pilot will be announced in the coming week as will the award for the Biospecimen Core Resource. The selections for the Cancer Genome Characterization Centers and bioinformatics support will be finalized and the awards announced in October. NHGRI will finalize the selection and announce the award of its high-throughput Sequencing Centers in December, and plans are to launch the project in early 2007.
Dr. Barker explained that a systems approach has been applied to address the challenges associated with moving from R01-type science to science that integrates biology and technology. The Biospecimen Core Resource will receive all tissue donated for study by the patient community and will have responsibility for quality control (QC) of every biomolecule that goes to the Centers to ensure that