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Fred Hutch researcher and proteomics pioneer Dr. Amanda Paulovich is co-leading the new ovarian cancer initiative. (Fred Hutch Photo / Bo Jungmayer)

Ovarian cancer is a tricky disease to treat. About 20 percent of those diagnosed don’t respond to the standard treatment, which means they lose precious time taking a treatment that won’t help them, often leaving them very sick.

There’s currently no way to predict which patients will respond to treatment and which won’t, but a new initiative announced Tuesday by the National Cancer Institute is aiming to change that by leveraging new technology that lets researchers collect and analyze massive amounts of data on the proteins at work in a cell.

The initiative is part of the NCI’s Office of Cancer Clinical Proteomics Research. It will combine proteomics, the study of proteins, with genomics to find out which biological markers predict how patients respond to treatment, and identify new ways to treat those who don’t respond to current treatments.

The initiative will be co-led by Dr. Amanda Paulovich, a proteomics pioneer and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and ovarian cancer doctor Dr. Michael Birrer, who leads Massachusetts General Hospital‘s gynecological cancer program.

The program brings $1.35 million in funding to the Fred Hutch in its first year, and is slated to run for five years with new funding for each year until 2022.

“Despite advances in chemotherapy and surgery, the overall survival of patients with ovarian cancer has not significantly changed in decades,” Paulovich said in a statement.

A patient’s response to cancer treatment relies on a huge number of variables, including the thousands of proteins and genes that dictate how their cancer behaves. Until recently, there wasn’t technology that allowed researchers to look at all those factors and identify meaningful patterns.

Now that the technology is available, Paulovich and the other researchers taking part in the initiative hope that an advanced understanding of how the genes and proteins in ovarian cancer cells work will help them personalize treatment, making it more effective for each patient.

“There’s no one mechanism of resistance; we’re going to look at the entire network of proteins and genes that together have a role,” Paulovich said.

Paulovich is also leading a key part of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot’s APOLLO mission: developing protein tests that can match cancer patients of all kinds to the most effective treatments.

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