Dana-Farber’s bank of patient-derived tumor xenografts gets major boost from Novartis

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  • Novartis transfer of 400 xenografts creates one of the most comprehensive xenograft model banks in the U.S.
  • Vital resource for research into hundreds of cancer types is accessible to researchers worldwide
  • Companion website includes extensive annotated data on each xenograft

Creating a critical resource for cancer researchers around the world, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is establishing a bank of patient-derived xenograft models of more than 750 human tumors. The bank, established with the transfer of 400 xenografts from Novartis to Dana-Farber, operates in conjunction with an open-source website that contains information relevant to each xenograft.

The xenografts are available to investigators in academia and industry for use in their research. The addition of xenografts from Novartis to the Dana-Farber bank makes the new repository one of the most comprehensive in the United States.

"Patient-derived xenografts [PDXs] have become valuable tools for cancer researchers in recent years," says Dana-Farber's David Weinstock, MD, whose lab established a repository of patient-derived leukemia and lymphoma xenografts in 2015 – a repository now vastly augmented by the transfer of PDXs from Novartis. "By uniting our xenograft repository with that of Novartis, we've created a tremendous resource for researchers in the U.S. and abroad."

Because PDXs are grown in laboratory mice, they're often preferable to traditional cell lines for studying human tumors in the context of an entire organism. PDXs are useful for assessing the genetic diversity of tumors and study tumor interactions with blood and the immune system. They can be used to develop biomarkers of tumor vulnerability to specific drugs, and explore how tumors become resistant to some drugs.

Over the last three years, the Dana-Farber xenograft repository – dubbed the Public Repository of Xenografts (PRoXe) – has sent lymphoma and leukemia PDXs to hundreds of scientists at more than 300 institutions around the world. The decision by Novartis to transfer its library of PDXs to Dana-Farber dramatically expands the repository's holdings. (PDXs are distributed at cost to investigators at non-profit academic institutions, and at a higher price to for-profit organizations.)

"Advancing cancer treatments and outcomes requires open collaboration with innovative academic scientists, and we are committed to share discoveries and research tools with the global scientific community,” said Jeff Engelman, Global Head, Oncology Research, at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR). “This is our motivation for transferring these xenografts to Dana-Farber.”

“After a decade of establishing a broad library of patient derived xenografts at Novartis, it is immensely gratifying to see a significant number of these models now easily accessible to the cancer research community, which will aid in the quest to understand cancer and how to treat it,” said Juliet Williams, an Executive Director in Drug Discovery at Novartis, who leads Novartis’ PDX project.

On the PRoXe.org website, each xenograft in the bank is extensively annotated with information about the tumor and the xenograft, as well as the phase of treatment and prior therapies that the patient received. Annotations also include laboratory information such as immunophenotype, cytogenetics, and molecular diagnostics.

"We're excited about the opportunities created by the expanded repository," Weinstock says. "We know investigators will take advantage of it to advance their research, both to explore cancer biology and, ultimately, to develop effective new cancer therapies."

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