Novartis and the Broad Institute develop a new "cancer encyclopaedia"

Paving the way for a more targeted treatment of cancer patients.

Novartis's headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Credit: Getty Images

The Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis and the research firm the Broad Institute have developed a new encyclopaedia cataloguing the genetic and molecular profiles of almost 1,000 human cancer cell lines.

The Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia will enable researchers around the world to better design clinical trials and further cancer research.

William Sellers, global head of oncology at NIBR, said: “Without access to a systematically collected set of molecular data, researchers can’t match experiments from cell lines with patient tumors when new medicines become available. The Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia will provide scientists with the ability to build predictive models of what types of patients will respond to a particular class of drugs.”

Each cell line was genetically characterised through a series of high-through-put analyses at the Broad Institute, including global RNA expression patterns, changes in DNA copy number, as well as DNA sequence variations in about 1,600 genes associated with cancer, and pharmacologic profiling for several drugs in about half of the cell lines.

Algorithms were developed to predict drug responses based on the genetic and molecular make-up of cancer cells, according to the lead authors Jordi Barretina and Giordano Caponigro.

Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), said: “Cancer is a genetic disease. Cell lines reflect the genetic disturbances that drive cancers. Probing cell lines with medicines targeted at specific pathways, as done for The Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia, provides a powerful tool for design of cancer treatment.”