Genomic Testing in Cancer

Eli Lilly and Company  | May 27, 2020

Tags |  Cancer

We’re in an exciting time for oncology research, with many new cancer treatments becoming available – often driven by our growing understanding of tumor biology. We’ve learned that cancer, which was historically defined by where it originated in the body or how fast it was growing, is now viewed with more complex considerations, including its genomic alterations.

For example, many lung cancers are driven by a genomic alteration that causes a cell to produce too many EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) proteins, which encourage cell division and growth.

Other types of genomic alterations, such as RET fusions, which can occur in non-small cell lung cancer and some thyroid cancers, may also disrupt cellular signals that control division. These alterations can ultimately lead to cancer.

"Genomic testing can help us expose a tumor’s Achilles heel,” said Maura Dickler, M.D., vice president, late phase development, Lilly Oncology. “Finding a weakness in the tumor’s makeup gives us the opportunity to design a more targeted treatment.”

In the last decade, we’ve gotten better at testing to determine which genomic alteration is driving disease, and with that information have developed more powerful precision medicines that target specific cancers in specific people – such as those with EGFR alterations or RET fusions.

While a growing number of precision cancer therapies are available, whether a patient’s tumor is tested for genomic alterations often varies depending on where people live and the type of tumor they have, and overall awareness of the importance of testing remains low, meaning some patients’ tumors aren’t tested at all. Lilly Oncology is working to help people understand the importance of broad genomic testing in cancer diagnosis, treatment and research throughout the health care system, including:

  • Investigating precision medicine treatments as a way to improve effectiveness and lower potential for adverse effects;

  • Exploring treatments for rare or hard-to-treat cancers through our new cancer research and development group, Loxo Oncology at Lilly;

  • And encouraging oncologists to have conversations with patients about genomic testing, which increases the chance of finding the right medicine for the right patient at the right time.

The promise of science to change people’s lives has never been greater. Every day, new insights provide scientists at Lilly and our partners more power and precision to treat disease. The research of genomic alterations is an important tool as we continue to discover ways to advance new cancer treatments as fast as possible.