National Cancer Institute Awards Healthcare System $3.6 Million to Study Genetic Variations in Cancers

Researchers intend to use a “genome-first” approach that starts by analyzing the genetic information from the health system’s genomic collection studies

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently awarded Geisinger with a $3.6 million contract to study the role of genetic variation in cancer. What is important for hospital leaders to recognize about this new contract is that the appeal of the health system as an NCI select research partner was largely due to its genomic data collecting project.

Since 2007, the MyCode Community Health Initiative at Pennsylvania-based Geisinger has collected genetic data on over 276,000 participants. MyCode allows people to provide their genetic information to Geisinger voluntarily, allowing Geisinger to link any personal health information the health system has with the individual’s genetic testing results. About 175,000 of MyCode participants also have health data that Geisinger can access.

A Genomics-First Approach to Precision Medicine

Geisinger promotes its MyCode initiative as one of the largest genomic collection studies of its kind globally. MyCode is a system-wide biorepository of blood, serum, and DNA samples for broad research use that is linkable to Geisinger’s electronic medical record database. 

The high number of participants who have made both their genetic data and health information available to Geisinger has positioned Geisinger as the ideal research partner for organizations such as the NCI.

David J. Carey, PhD (above), of the Department of Molecular and Functional Genomics at Geisinger, says the long-term goal of his research is to use knowledge of gene-phenotype associations to identify previously unknown mechanisms of disease, to quantify individual and population risk of disease, and to identify novel targets for the next generation of therapeutic interventions. (Photo: Geisinger)

The five-year research partnership between the NCI and Geisinger will be led by David J. Carey, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular and Functional Genomics at Geisinger and a MyCode principal investigator, and Douglas Stewart, MD, a senior investigator at the NIH’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

“This partnership allows Geisinger and NCI investigators to combine our expertise in cancer diagnosis, epidemiology, cancer biology, and genetics,” Carey said in a Geisinger news release. “The data available through MyCode provides us with a unique opportunity to investigate the genetic risk of cancer in a large regional population.”

Researchers intend to use a “genome-first” approach that starts by analyzing the genetic information from MyCode participants to find significant genetic variants. Researchers will then cross reference information about genetic variants with the patients’ health records to determine the significance of each genetic variant. Ultimately, researchers believe this will yield important information about how genetic variants affect patients.

Three Key Takeaways from the Geisinger-NCI Partnership

There are three key takeaways for hospital administrators from this recently announced partnership. The first is that advances in precision medicine are becoming a priority of the federal government.

Opportunities for partnerships and grants from the NIH and other government organizations that are focused on precision medicine initiatives, like the Geisinger research project, are likely to continue to grow.

The second important takeaway is that hospital systems that focus on investigating and adopting precision medicine services are well-positioned to stand out competitively.

In this example, acting on the potential of precision medicine meant taking steps to position the organization ahead of the opportunity. A large part of Geisinger’s success in obtaining the $3.6 million contract with the NCI was due to their foresight and decisive action to participate in an emerging field of study. Geisinger’s MyCode initiative was started in 2007, only four years after the human genome was initially sequenced.

The third and final takeaway from the partnership between the National Cancer Institute and Geisinger is a reminder to hospital CEOs of the precision medicine opportunities with regional and community cancer research. However, similar opportunities are not limited to cancer research.

While the very early days of human genomic sequencing have come and gone, gene-based precision medicine continues to be a developing area that healthcare systems are only just beginning to recognize. Hospitals would benefit from following Geisinger’s example and taking advantage of a unique opportunity to gain a competitive edge.

—Caleb Williams

Related Information:

David J. Carey

Douglas Stewart, MD

Healthcare Orgs Aim to Expand Precision Medicine Research

What is MyCode?

Geisinger awarded $3.6 million to study genetics of cancer

Setting the Foundation for a Best-in-Class Precision Medicine Program White Paper