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The SEngine team. The startup was founded by researchers at Fred Hutch and Lee Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology. (SEngine Photo)

There are hundreds of drugs that treat cancer, and every patient reacts differently to each of them. That means doctors are often left in the dark when choosing which treatment to give a patient and patients often don’t get the most effective treatment for them.

SEngine Precision Medicine, a Seattle-based startup spun out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is aiming to solve that problem with a test called PARIS that can find weak points in a patient’s cancer and recommend the most effective and least toxic treatments to take advantage of those weaknesses.

A recent study of the test, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, found that it was able to suggest personalized drugs and drug combinations that would be more effective for patients. Carla Grandori, a former Fred Hutch researcher and now SEngine’s CEO, co-authored the study along with researchers from Cornell University and Fred Hutch and said its results validate the startup’s work.

SEngine CEO and former Fred Hutch researcher Carla Grandori. (SEngine Photo)

“This study marks a major milestone in advancing personalized oncology to the next level,” Grandori said in a press release. “It demonstrates to the medical and scientific community that the functional methods developed in our Seattle labs hold great promise for tailoring treatments to a variety of cancer types and increasing odds for successful outcomes.”

The test works by finding the genetic mutations in a patient’s cancer cells, then testing different drug combinations that could take advantage of the cancer’s genetic weak spots. The results of the test are sent to the patient’s doctor, who can use the information to suggest treatment options.

Early studies show that the approach would be much more effective than just sequencing the cancer’s DNA, which only suggests more effective treatments up to 10 percent of the time.

It could be revolutionary in a field that’s itching to embrace more personalized medicine techniques based on data like the genome of an individual’s cancer. That itch has been driven by a new understanding of the huge variation in cancer types, combined with tools in systems biology and big data that make the science behind personalized medicine possible.

SEngine was spun out of the Fred Hutch in 2015 by Fred Hutch researchers V.K. Gadi and Christopher Kemp and Institute for Systems Biology researcher Brady Bernard, all of whom hold executive positions at the startup.

The startup is still waiting for the test to be certified by the CLIA, which must happen before it can be used by doctors. When that certification comes through, it will be the only company in the U.S. certified to help oncologists find personalized treatment options.

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