Heidi Ledford in Nature:
Lung cancer is not the same as breast cancer, which is not the same as pancreatic cancer — but at the molecular level they can have much in common, two studies published today have found. A ‘pan-cancer’ analysis of more than 3,000 genomes across 12 different kinds of tumours has looked for the commonalities that cross tissue boundaries. The earliest results, published in Nature Genetics1, 2, reveal more than 100 regions of the genome that may contain previously undiscovered drug targets, and that could provide the foundation for a new classification of tumours that better matches individual patients to the treatment most likely to drive their cancer into remission.
Lumping together cancers of different organs can provide insight into common pathways that give rise to the disease. It also allows researchers to boost the number of samples in their data set. More samples often means greater statistical power to find genomic changes associated with cancer. “It’s the next wave of cancer genome analysis,” says Tom Hudson, director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, who was not involved with the work. “This gives us a lot more power to detect commonalities that could have been missed analysing a single tumour type at a time.” The approach also adds fuel to the growing movement to stratify tumours on the basis not only of their organ of origin, but also of molecular characteristics — an approach that is gaining importance as pharmaceutical companies roll out a new generation of cancer therapies targeted to treat tumours that have specific genetic mutations.