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Developing Cancer Drugs Based on Genomics

• Emily Singer via

Blueprint Medicines, a startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, plans to use the growing amount of genomic information about cancer to create new drugs targeted at the mechanisms that drive specific subtypes of the disease. The company, which announced its creation last week with $40 million in funding from Third Rock Ventures, reflects a growing trend toward defining cancers not by their location in the body but by the particular collections of genetic mistakes that enable tumor cells to grow out of control.

"How the community, both academic and industry, understands cancer is really shifting from largely a pathology-centric viewpoint—classifying cancers based on what we can see in the microscope—to a molecular viewpoint," says Chris Varma, the company's president and cofounder. "What we find is that the mechanisms that are driving cancer come up again and again in different environments. The same mechanism responsible for some breast cancers could be driving a subset of brain cancer or melanoma."

The growing understanding of cancer genetics has enabled researchers to develop an increasing number of drugs designed to zero in on cancer cells. Varma says Blueprint will use genomics and novel chemistry to develop such drugs in a more systematic way, targeting a broader range of molecular mistakes.

In addition to Varma, cofounders include Nicholas Lydon and Brian Druker, who led the development of Gleevec, one of the first targeted cancer drugs; Scott Lowe, deputy director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center; and David Armistead, a biotech entrepreneur.

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