Written by By Daniel Berman, CNN
Since its founding in 2003, eLife has raised a quarter of a billion dollars for cancer research.
Yet its researchers continue to be frustrated by gaps in data used in the effort. As the journal Nature journal noted, most of the 25 most important cancer drugs that currently exist haven’t been confirmed by the organization’s databases.
“We’ve spoken to doctors, researchers and patients and we know that one of the problems they have is that they are unsure of what treatments work,” Senior Vice President Bruce Carter said. “If we don’t have those answers, then we can’t help people.”
“We’re doing well in terms of funding, getting cancers into a database that can be used for research,” he said. “But the problem is, if you want to do more study on drugs, you have to have the data and the data cannot be easily found.”
To address that, Carter’s team and other cancer researchers are using a new data platform and a database known as the Spindle Cell Libraries, developed at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, designed to collect complex data sets.
The online database can be accessed by any researcher and the system makes it possible to generate sophisticated statistical models. To make things easier for researchers, its library is indexed, making it easy to enter and find the database. The system is now considered one of the most robust data sets in the world.
E-Discover, a consortium of health companies and foundations, released the platform in 2015. Since then, it has drawn 100,000 new researchers.
Using eLife data to further study multiple types of cancer
eLife collects data about more than 140 rare forms of cancer, of which about 1,400 are found in the United States, according to the organization. By analyzing the data, doctors can connect patients with specific therapies that would be most effective in controlling their disease.
Many cancer patients do not benefit from standard treatments, but often respond to newer drugs that treat a patient’s underlying molecular condition, sometimes called a biomarker. eLife provides valuable information for this type of therapy, Carter said.
“We’re able to give the best answer for the patient,” he said. “We may not be able to provide what someone else found, but we can offer a new name or a different combination of drugs to see if it will work.”
This approach is not yet common in the U.S., where patients often only receive a single treatment for many types of cancer.
“We’re not saying that the drugs are different, we’re not saying that they’re necessarily better,” Carter said. “We’re saying that there’s probably something we should be looking at that, if we know what it is, we can provide it to the patient as well.”
“We can ask different questions,” he added. “We can pick different things to look at.”