Phoenix Children’s Hospital Charting a New Course with Comprehensive Molecular Testing Through the Power of Genomics and Proteomics

By Scott Stearns

One of America’s leading pediatric hospitals, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, now provides comprehensive molecular testing through a new test called GPS Cancer, offered by NantHealth, for both its pediatric cancer patients as well as its employees in their health coverage. The GPS Cancer test, which integrates whole genome and transcriptome sequencing with quantitative proteomics, improves upon current technologies by studying proteins to provide a more exact composition of individual tumor cells. This enhanced sequencing can improve the accuracy of tumor classification and accelerate the development of individualized treatments protocols. Genomic and proteomic analyses can also identify patients who will not respond to standard cancer protocols early in their treatment cycle and allow the introduction of more effective treatment options. 

Why Employees?

Robert Meyer, CEO, Phoenix Children's Hospital

Robert Meyer, CEO, Phoenix Children's Hospital

Robert Meyer, CEO, Phoenix Children's Hospital

As the 30th largest employer in Arizona with a self-funded employee health care plan of 10,000 enrollees, providing GPS Cancer allows Phoenix Children’s Hospital to continue to invest in its employees. President and Chief Executive Officer of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Robert L. “Bob” Meyer, explained that the purpose of this initiative is to enhance the quality of care by focusing on health outcomes and that the goal “is to utilize the delivery network being created by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong on both the pediatric and adult-side and use these tools and protocols to improve the health of my employees and achieve better health outcomes.”

Why Pediatric Patients?

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 10,380 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. Phoenix Children’s Hospital expects to treat 300 pediatric cancer patients this year. With this in mind, the hospital plans to provide the GPS Cancer test to their pediatric patients with the goal of increasing survival rates while developing new treatment protocols with reduced toxicity.

Historically, the accepted Children’s Oncology Group protocols have been effective in treating pediatric cancer patients with very high cure rates for some types of cancer. Sequencing is generally reserved for those patients whose initial treatment fails. Meyer wants to accelerate the utilization of GPS Cancer to coincide with the start of the treatment protocol for all pediatric patients with the goal of developing individualized treatments that include vaccines and immunotherapy. It is hoped these treatment plans will require less chemotherapy which can have negative long-term effects on children.  “If you can develop an immunotherapy that is specific to the genome of the tumor,” said Meyer, “you can avoid the toxicity that goes with the standard protocol and that is what we are interested in.”

Better Diagnosis, Better Outcomes

As this comprehensive test becomes commonplace the price per test will continue to come down, but it remains substantially more expensive than traditional biology-based genomic testing, creating a cost barrier. Even though it is still considered experimental, this type of testing is now covered by many health insurance companies, but Phoenix Children’s Hospital will continue to ensure all pediatric patients have the opportunity to receive the GPS Cancer test. Knowing the likelihood that a patient will not respond to the standard protocol can make sure physicians provide better treatment options in a shorter amount of time. “We will save money if we use the most effect treatment for the actual genome of the tumor addressed,” added Meyer. A vaccine or immunotherapy specific to the genome of the tumor can reduce or eliminate chemotherapy, improve outcomes and avoid the costs of a failed protocol.

Meyer believes these newer treatment methodologies will have a tremendous impact by updating or replacing some of the older protocols. With most cancers the standard protocols are the most effective treatment and will remain the primary option, but in many cases the patient doesn’t respond to the protocols. GPS Cancer can help answer the question of why the protocol didn’t work. “If the sequencing reveals a mutation or some other side effect and the standard protocol is not going to work then you can go to the appropriate therapy sooner rather than later.” With this information, the standard protocols can be enhanced, adapted, or updated to be more effective against a specific mutation and provide a better outcome.

The Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 Program

Phoenix Children’s Hospital is also part of the Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 program and a founding member of the National Pediatrics Consortium, whose mission is to bring the next-generation standard of cancer care and immunotherapy to patients with cancer

The collection of genomic and proteomic data will also assist in future research efforts. Testing individual tumor cells through GPS Cancer will generate substantial amounts of information for researchers to use in the development of protocols, vaccines and immunotherapies. Simply put, the more tumors sequenced the more we will understand and the better the treatment options will be. Consortium members realize that tumors are extremely complex and very good at changing, mutating and adapting, so researchers need this type of network to facilitate the analysis of massive amounts of data.

Future of Cancer Care

The nature and scope of cancer treatment is changing rapidly, but it takes organizations like Phoenix Children’s Hospital, along with the other members of the National Pediatrics Consortium and Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 to chart a course for the future of cancer treatment.