R2T: Response to Therapy

An innovative blood test that will change the way we treat cancer

The way cancer is treated continues to change as innovative, new treatment options are discovered. Right now, most cancer patients receive three or four different treatments before finding one their cancer responds to. This can be chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy, experimental clinical trials or a combination of options.

With both chemotherapy and immunotherapy, it can be months or even a year before a patient finds out if their treatment path is working. If it’s not working, a new treatment can be started but during this time, their cancer can grow and spread. With some cancers, patients might not have the luxury of time to wait these months to find out.

With cancer survivors, a person who has been free of disease for five years, there is no structured follow-up process once they’ve been labeled “cancer free.” This means that cancer can reoccur, and patients might not know until they are very sick.

What if there was an easier, less invasive and more accessible way to measure if a patient’s treatment is working or if cancer has reoccurred in a cancer survivor?

Researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center believe they have the answer.

A routine blood test — combined with a novel technology developed at Roswell Park — could be all it takes to give doctors and patients real-time updates on treatment. It can become part of a survivor’s annual routine check-up with their primary care physician to test for cancer recurrence.

Carl Morrison, MD, DVM, is leading the development of this innovative method he’s calling Response to Therapy or simply, R2T. As Senior Vice President of Scientific Development and Integrative Medicine, Dr. Morrison is committed to bringing the most advanced and effective care to Roswell Park patients. He believes R2T is the dynamic, convenient and cost-effective solution we’ve been waiting for.

Dr. Morrison has already proven success in driving innovative, personalized medicine laboratory tests. With donor support, he led the creation of OmniSeq: comprehensive molecular and immune profiling mechanisms to help identify therapies that may be most effective for individual patients based on their genomic makeup. Roswell Park is one of only a few cancer centers to be able to routinely offer this testing.

How will a blood test help?

Cells secrete DNA into your blood. The DNA of healthy cells looks different than the DNA of cancerous cells. Current available tests only have 15-20% accuracy in measuring the mutated DNA in a person’s blood to indicate whether the amount of cancer in their body is changing.

Roswell Park’s R2T uses the same principle of measuring cell free DNA in the blood, but with proprietary technology that offers three to five times more accuracy than other methods, delivering data with 95% accuracy. Because the amount of healthy cell DNA outnumbers the amount of cancer cell DNA in the blood, this novel technology is critical to provide reliable results.

If a patient’s blood is tested after each treatment, their doctor can determine in real time if the cancer is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. There would be no need to wait months for an MRI or CT scan to see how the treatment is progressing; they could monitor the disease visit by visit, week to week.

“There’s still a lot of work to do here,” Dr. Morrison says, “but I really believe the technology we have will become a nationally accepted procedure.”

Two studies underway at Roswell Park

A phase 1 study funded in part by donations is already underway at Roswell Park. Dr. Morrison and his team are engaging in an observational, non-interventional study for patients with early-stage cancers. The researchers are using R2T to monitor cell-free DNA before and after patients undergo surgery to remove their tumors.

They started with stage 1 and stage 2 cancers to solidly demonstrate the superior sensitivity which sets R2T apart from other industry tests. “Since our test is designed to be significantly more sensitive than others, we should be able to prove it in very early-stage cancers,” Dr. Morrison explains.

Dr. Morrison also has plans for two concurrent studies once donations are secured. First is a study for current patients with advanced disease. These patients will be monitored every three weeks during therapeutic treatment to watch for increasing, decreasing or plateaued levels of cell-free DNA. The second is a study for cancer survivors to test for disease recurrence.

Overall, this is a fast-paced and aggressive path toward higher quality cancer care, knowing we cannot waste time as cancer certainly does not.

“R2T has the opportunity to change the treatment of cancer as much as anything I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” Dr. Morrison says.

Your Support Brings Advanced Pace, Expanded Reach

Completely changing the landscape of cancer care does not come without cost. With donor support, this technology has the potential to save lives, improve quality of life and ease the financial burden of cancer treatment on patients. This is unlike any advancement we have ever seen. You are an important part of a new path in the fight against cancer.