GeneCentric Test Seeks Better Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosis

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A multi-year collaboration to help improve outcomes for patients with head and neck cancer has advanced to a second phase for Research Triangle Park-based GeneCentric Therapeutics, Inc.  

GeneCentric is partnering for a new cancer test with Jose Zevallos M.D., MPH, chief of the division of head and neck surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

In techno-speak, they’re working on developing a “clinic-ready tumor subtyping diagnostic test for HPV-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).” The project is funded through a National Cancer Institute grant awarded to Zevallos in 2017.  

GeneCentric has created a product it calls a “cancer subtype platform” that provides a comprehensive genetic picture of the various kinds of head and neck tumors.  

The collaboration is evaluating a modified version of GeneCentric’s proprietary Head and Neck Cancer Subtype Profiler (HNSP) as a tool to guide treatment decisions for people with HPV-negative HNSCC.  

The company says the Phase 2 studies are designed to validate the effectiveness of HNSP as a diagnostic tool. It also says that Phase 1 studies found a diagnostic-friendly gene set that could be easily commercialized. A final stage of the grant will focus on confirmation and commercialization of the HNSCC diagnostic. 

“We’re excited to advance our HNSP with Dr. Zevallos,” said Mike Milburn, Ph.D., CEO and president of GeneCentric. “It will provide the data to better inform patients and physicians of those cancers that are at a higher risk of becoming metastatic. That, hopefully, will lead to improved treatment and survival. We also believe our subtype profiler can identify those tumors that are resistant to radiation therapy and lead to better early treatment options.” 

Head and neck cancer – a group of carcinomas that can start inside the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses, or salivary glands -- is the seventh-most-common type of all cancers. Since most head and neck malignancies begin in squamous cells that line the moist surfaces inside the head and neck, they also are referred to as head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. 

HNSCC involves a group of tumor types that vary in their prognoses and treatments. So physicians need better ways to classify the disease and to make the best treatment decisions. 

GeneCentric’s HNSP delineates five subtypes of cancer. That information can be used to predict response to therapies and to guide drug development, clinical trials and patient care. 

“This research has the potential to impact treatment for a broad range of patients with head and neck cancer,” said Zevallos. “Our aim is to better identify cancers that are resistant to radiation therapy. We hope the test will more accurately identify patients with occult lymph node metastasis and help surgeons make more-informed decisions on when surgery to remove neck tumors should be offered to patients.” 

GeneCentric Therapeutics is a 2011 precision medicine spinout from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It uses proprietary genomics technology to define the subtypes of cancer as a tool to better predict patient response to treatments. 

GeneCentric has a current roster of 11 employees and a like number of consultants. The company named Milburn president and CEO at the beginning of 2019, replacing founder Myla Lai-Goldman, M.D. Lai-Goldman remains GeneCentric’s executive chair.


Bryant Haskins, NCBiotech Writer
Thu, 08/15/2019 - 22:08