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Korea closing in on tailored gene therapies to fight cancer‘Precision medicine project K-Master has finished analysis on 2,000 genomic data of cancer patients’
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2019.03.21 11:47
  • Updated 2019.03.21 11:47
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Korea’s state-supported precision medicine project group, dubbed K-Master, has completed analyzing about 2,000 pieces of genomic data of cancer patients, the head of the group said.

It started 13 clinical trials for precision medicine last year and plan to conduct seven more this year, he said.

Kim Yeul-hong, president of K-MASTER Cancer Precision Medicine Diagnosis and Treatment Enterprise, speaks during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review on Wednesday.

The project group is also beta-testing a portal for researchers to share accumulated data of cancer genomes and clinical trials, and planning to open it in the second half.

In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review on Wednesday, Kim Yeul-hong, president of K-MASTER Cancer Precision Medicine Diagnosis and Treatment Enterprise, introduced what the project group has achieved and tasks to be carried out in the remaining project period. Kim is also a professor at Korea University Anam Hospital’s Oncology and Hematology Department.

K-Master launched in June 2017 to analyze genetic mutations of domestic cancer patients, and to develop customized diagnosis and treatment methods through clinical studies on matching targeted therapies.

Almost immediately after the start of the Moon Jae-in government, K-Master was designated as a national strategic project and garnered a state financing for operation for five years.

According to Kim, around 2,800 local cancer patients have registered for the K-Master program for genome analysis. Among them, 2,000 cases have been analyzed and delivered to the patients and medical staffs.

It takes about six to eight weeks for a patient to get the genome analysis after registration. K-Master is analyzing the remaining 800 cases.

“K-Master’s first goal is to profiling genome data of 10,000 cancer patients within the project period. The second one is to conduct 20 precision medicine clinical studies based on these data,” Kim said.

He noted that K-Master is to start the remaining seven studies this year, plus 13 that began last year.

“A clinical trial needs nine months to a year for preparation only. As it takes a long time from the beginning to the end, we plan to start all the rest clinical trials this year to complete all the studies before the project period ends,” Kim said. “The trials that started at the early stage are almost complete.”

K-Master’s third goal is to build database -- genetic data collected and analyzed from cancer patients, clinical progress data of patients, data of patients participating in clinical trials, and data on their therapeutic and adverse effect evaluation. The key is “how to make use of the database,” Kim said.

He explained that K-Master has made a portal for researchers to facilitate the accumulated data. The portal is under a beta test.

K-Master plans to unveil the portal site to the general public in the second half and make the genetic data non-identifiable and provide them for all researchers registered in the portal.

For example, a researcher will be able to see the number of cancer patients enrolled for the K-Master project, their cancer types and distribution, and genetic variations of Korean patients in specific cancers, Kim said.

“Because people in the U.S. and Europe tend to think that researchers all around the world should share genetic analysis information obtained from a national research program, we will provide our accumulated genomic data for international researchers in an exchange,” Kim explained. “In return, Korean researchers will be accessible to overseas data through our portal.”

To do so, the project group plans to participate in the meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Atlanta, U.S., in late March and discuss the information sharing project.

The project group is also using “K-Master cancer panel,” developed in November, to help analyze genomes.

K-Master had used cancer panels from Seoul National University Hospital, Samsung Genome Institute, and Macrogen. However, the project group’s genetic analysis operating committee raised the need for K-Master’s self-developed cancer panel.

Dr. Park Woong-yang of Samsung Genome Institute led efforts to upgrade the institute’s panel and named it K-Master cancer panel.

Since November, K-Master has analyzed 600 genomes out of 2,000, using its panel.

“K-Master’s cancer panel includes 377 genetic mutations. We’re preparing to upgrade it by including several more genetic mutations. The latest version will have both the conventional DNA panel and the new RNA panel to analyze both,” Kim noted.

He went on to say that it was important to make distinctions whether a newly discovered genetic mutation was congenital from parents’ genes or it was a secondary mutation from cancer cells.

Software for making such distinction has been mostly based on data of foreigners. Thus, it was almost impossible to apply it to Koreans, he said.

“We don’t have much information of inherited genes coming down from Korean generations to generations. That’s why the project group is doing related research,” Kim added.


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