EVERY PATIENT IS UNIQUE

The Netherlands has a strong track record when it comes to medical and genetic research, with the last decade seeing significant progress in the treatment of cancer with precision medicine. Two initiatives have spearheaded this progress; the Center for Personalised Cancer Treatment and the Hartwig Medical Foundation. PMF editor Mark Glover finds out more.

In 2010, three of the largest cancer centres in Holland began pooling their DNA focused cancer research and data to create the Center for Personalised Cancer Treatment (CPCT). Eight years on, the Dutch Cancer Institute (Antoni Van Leuwenhoek Hospital), Erasmus MC Cancer Institute and UMC Utrecht have been joined by the majority of academic and non-academic hospitals across the region, swelling the total number to 47.

“We realised this would not work with one hospital or with three hospitals when we started. We needed the whole of the Netherlands to be involved to be able set-up a first-class cancer treatment centre,” says Edwin Cuppen (pictured), one of the founders of CPCT and also Director at the Hartwig Medical Foundation, the country’s first DNA sequencing centre.

The Hartwig Foundation was formed in 2016, when members of the CPCT realised the need for a research hub, focused on whole genome sequencing, that could be shared with clinics to utilise precision medicine in the treatment of cancer.

“The Foundation generates the data and makes the logistics possible,” Cuppen explains. “It analyses the data and reports it back to the doctors. We have a database that is being constantly updated and this helps with biomarker research.”

The database links all 47 hospitals, who between them, have 3917 cancer patients participating in the scheme. It means that researchers can compare genetic and clinical data to develop different types of treatment and medicine for the disease.

Cuppen thinks the marriage of genetics and research in the Netherlands has been a key part of the country’s development in precision medicine, although this has not always been the case. “I think the Netherlands has always been at the forefront in terms of medical research and also genetics; two different areas that have now come together in terms of precision medicine,” he says. “However, the two systems are not always directly connected which is one of the challenges in many other countries, and one we have also had in the Netherlands.”

How important then is collaboration? “We realise that every patient is unique,” he says, “not just at a genetic level but also therefore at a treatment level. We should be willing to share data and not just be ‘these are my patients and this is my data.’ Therefore, collaboration is essential.”

Edwin Cuppen will be speaking at the Benelux Precision Medicine Forum in Utrecht which takes place from 12 to 13 June. You can register for the event here.