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Researchers identify unique genetic variants to overcome cancer treatment barriers

Washington : University of California, Los Angeles researchers add monoclonal antibody to target oropharyngeal cancer in HPV-positive patients with KRAS gene variant.

This research represents current and future efforts to identify patients uniquely sensitive to innovative targeted treatments.

The research builds on studies led by Dr Joanne Weidhaas at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, who found that about 16 per cent of head and neck cancer patients have inherited a variant KRAS gene. When these patients receive standard chemoradiation treatments for their HPV-positive squamous cell cancers of the oropharynx, they have both worse toxicity and worse rates of cancer control, Chin said. However, these poor outcomes may be reversed with the addition of a short course of cetuximab.

“In standard clinical practice, tumours are assumed to be different, but patients mostly uniform,” Chin said. “Thus, we spent a lot of energy analysing tumours. However, we have since come to understand that our body’s own immune system is crucial in making treatments effective. Matching the right body to the right treatment may make our treatments less toxic and more effective.”

Chin said UCLA researchers are conducting a clinical trial in which patients with this unique combination – having both the KRAS-variant and HPV-positive squamous cell oropharyngeal cancer – are randomised to either standard of care treatment or standard of care plus cetuximab. “We think this approach of identifying unique clusters of patients may be a way for us to design new treatments that are more personalised and effective,” he said.