– Francis Crick Institute and Royal Marsden Partner with AI Startup Owkin to Understand Relationship Between Evolutionary and Histological Features of Kidney Cancer –
– Cases of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) have more than doubled in the UK since the late 1970s –
Owkin is teaming up with scientists from the Francis Crick Institute and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London to use artificial intelligence (AI) to research how the evolution of a cancerous kidney tumor relates to differences in its structure microscopic, with the ultimate goal of helping doctors improve the way disease is treated.
Kidney cancer rates are rising, primarily due to an aging population, increased obesity and smoking. Research suggests that one possible reason for treatment failure is intratumoral heterogeneity – distinct tumor cell populations within a tumor with different molecular and phenotypic profiles. Treatment of the disease requires an understanding of an individual’s tumor characteristics, which can vary widely from patient to patient. If doctors can predict a patient’s outcome based on these characteristics, they can then tailor treatments to their individual needs, which is called precision medicine.
To help build the scientific basis for this, researchers from Owkin, the Crick Institute and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust are using AI to better understand how the evolution of renal cell carcinoma (RCC), kidney cancer the most common, is related to tumor histology. By using AI to analyze more than 1,000 tissue samples from 100 different tumours, researchers hope to find a way to predict the unique evolutionary characteristics of each patient. These characteristics can in turn predict patient outcomes.
Tumor progression can be grouped into three categories (or “modes” of progression) associated with clinical outcomes. They are characterized by different levels of chromosomal complexity (or weighted genomic instability, a measure of genome instability) and intratumoral heterogeneity.
Some kidney cancers grow very slowly, while others grow quickly and spread throughout the body, making it difficult to predict outcomes for individual patients. However, evolutionary characteristics – that is, how the tumor evolved through a series of genetic changes over time – are strongly associated with specific outcomes. By deploying machine learning to better understand how these findings relate to tumor histological features, the project aims to improve our fundamental understanding of disease mechanics and facilitate the transition to precision medicine.
Dr Samra Turajlic, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute and consultant in medical oncology at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“We know that the outcome of any patient with kidney cancer is determined by the distinct way in which their tumor progresses. We want to be able to predict the next step in a tumor’s evolutionary trajectory and better tailor treatments that can effectively fight a patient’s cancer.
“New technologies and tools are essential to help us achieve this goal at the scale and speed required in clinical practice, and at a cost that will make these measures applicable in most health systems.”
Thomas Clozel MD, co-founder and CEO of Owkin, said:
“Owkin’s mission is to find the right treatment for each patient. By using AI to improve our fundamental understanding of kidney cancer tumors, we aim to enable physicians to move towards a therapeutic approach to precision medicine. We are delighted to work with the Crick Institute and the Royal Marsden Hospital to make a lasting difference in the lives of patients.
By using fast, low-cost AI on digital pathology slides rather than large-scale genomic sequencing, which can be prohibitively expensive, the project hopes to contribute to day-to-day patient management in a cost-effective and feasible way.
For clinical settings, the project opens new possibilities for the interpretation of routine kidney cancer biopsies. For the research community, the project aims to uncover valuable insights into inter-individual differences in tumor development, progression and resistance to treatment, furthering our scientific understanding of how best to treat kidney cancer.
A high magnification micrograph of a clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC).
Cases of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) have more than doubled in the UK since the late 1970s to around 10,000 new diagnoses each year. 50% of patients have advanced disease and have a five-year survival rate of only 5%. Since the early 1970s, the kidney cancer death rate in the UK has risen by almost three-quarters (73%).
The project supports the work of TRACERx (TRACking Cancer Evolution through therapy (Rx)), a major translational research study aimed at transforming our understanding of cancer progression and moving towards an era of precision medicine. TRACErX Renal has received funding from Cancer Research UK, the NIHR Biomedical Research Center at Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research, London and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
Owkin is a French-American biotech startup that uses artificial intelligence to find the right treatment for each patient. Our goal is to use AI to discover and develop better treatments for unmet medical needs, starting with the fight against cancer. Owkin is already working with the NHS to improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
We use AI to identify new treatments, reduce risk and accelerate clinical trials, and create diagnostic tools that improve patient outcomes.
Using Federated Learning, a pioneering collaborative AI framework, Owkin enables medical and biopharmaceutical partners to unlock valuable insights from siled datasets, while protecting patient privacy and securing proprietary data. .
Owkin co-founders Thomas Clozel MD, chief executive, and Gilles Wainrib, chief scientific officer, overlaid a digital slide image of a cervical cancer tumor.
Owkin was co-founded by Thomas Clozel MD, a former assistant professor in clinical onco-hematology, and Gilles Wainrib, a pioneer in the field of machine learning in biology, in 2016. Owkin has published research in natural medicine, Nature Communication and Hepatology, among other leading journals. We work with the world’s leading cancer centers and biopharmaceutical companies. Our data science team includes many of the top Kaggle Masters and DREAM Challenge.
Owkin raised over $300 million in investment and became a unicorn with a $180 million investment from biopharmaceutical company Sanofi in November 2021.
About the Francis Crick Institute
The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical discovery institute dedicated to understanding the basic biology underlying health and disease. His work helps understand why disease develops and translates findings into new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, infections and neurodegenerative diseases.
An independent organisation, its founding partners are the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, Wellcome, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King’s College London.
The Crick was formed in 2015 and in 2016 moved into a brand new state-of-the-art building in central London which brings together 1500 scientists and support staff working collaboratively across all disciplines, making it the largest research center biomedical under one roof in Europe.
About the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
The Royal Marsden opened in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, research and education of cancer.
Today, together with its academic partner the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), it is Europe’s largest and most comprehensive cancer center seeing and treating over 59,000 NHS patients and private each year. It is a center of excellence with an international reputation for innovative research and for pioneering the latest cancer treatments and technologies.
The Royal Marsden, together with the ICR, is the National Institute for Health Care Research’s only biomedical cancer research centre. This supports pioneering research work being carried out on a number of different cancer topics.
The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity raises funds solely to support The Royal Marsden, a world leading cancer centre. It ensures that Royal Marsden’s nurses, doctors and research teams can provide the best care and develop lifesaving treatments, which are used in the UK and around the world.
From funding cutting-edge equipment and groundbreaking research to creating the best environments for patients, the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity will never stop looking for ways to improve the lives of those affected by cancer.