Global Genetics Consortium Sets Sights On Cancer

The International Cancer Genome Consortium

Global Genetics Consortium Sets Sights On Cancer

The International Cancer Genome Consortium

Researchers from four continents today announced the launch of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), a major collaboration designed to identify the key genetic mutations involved in up to 50 types of cancer.

The consortium, which includes the Wellcome Trust and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK, will generate a valuable resource enabling the development of new and better ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer.

The ICGC will build on the success of the UK’s Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, led by Professor Mike Stratton. Amongst the key findings of the Cancer Genome Project was the discovery that the BRAF gene is commonly mutated in malignant melanoma and some other tumours.

“Our research is uncovering a dramatic view in which the human genome in cancer cells is ravaged by changes. Some of these alterations cause the disease while others are just tagging along for the ride.

“In the past we have had piecemeal or low magnification views of the cancer genome. With the advent of new faster DNA sequencing technologies the ICGC now has set the hugely ambitious aim of fully sequencing thousands of cancer genomes to catalogue all the changes in DNA and obtain a complete picture of the abnormalities that lead to cancer with the aim of improving diagnosis and treatment.”

Professor Mike Stratton Co-Head of the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The ICGC will identify a list of approximately 50 cancer types and subtypes that are of clinical significance around the globe, aiming to study cancers of all major organs, including breast, ovary, prostate, lung and blood cancers. ICGC members will assume responsibility for specific cancers, and one of the consortium’s roles will be to facilitate the exchange of information so participants’ efforts do not duplicate each other. All the data generated will be made rapidly and freely available to the global research community.

The international collaboration has been welcomed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who recently called for a further strengthening in international cooperation in health research.

“International cooperation in health research is essential to maximise the opportunities that we have to find the cures and treatments for some of the most serious diseases which we face. I am pleased to support the International Cancer Genome Consortium as it builds on the success of the UK’s own Cancer Genome Project.

“Britain is a world leader in medical research and its participation in international projects such as this one is central to our aspirations to be at the forefront of the global fight against disease.”

Mr Gordon Brown UK Prime Minister

In 2007, more than 7.5 million people died of cancer worldwide and more than 12 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed; these numbers are expected to rise to 17.5 million deaths and 27 million new cases by 2050.

Once thought of as a single disease, cancer is now understood to consist of a large number of different conditions. In almost all forms, however, cancer changes the genetic blueprint, or genomes, of cells and causes disruptions within normal biological pathways, leading to uncontrolled cell growth. Because genomic changes are often specific to a particular type or stage of cancer, systematically discovering the changes that occur in each cancer has the potential to provide the foundation for research to identify new therapies, diagnostics and preventive strategies.

“Identifying the mutations that cause cancer is a big step towards developing targeted therapies. For example, the work of Professor Stratton and colleagues on malignant melanomas has stimulated a new drug discovery programme. This new global collaboration is essential to enable a comprehensive approach to cataloguing the mutations that cause cancers in different environments around the world.”

Dr Mark Walport Director of the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute announced on Sunday results from the first-ever genome-wide study of cancer samples using new-technology sequencing of the type that will be the backbone of the ICGC. The research, published in Nature Genetics, shows that in some cancers the human genome has been rearranged to a remarkable extent with hundreds of fractures being reset wrongly resulting in an extraordinary reshuffling of DNA. This ground-breaking research will set the stage for the ICGC.

The ICGC, which is extending an invitation to all nations to participate, currently includes:


  • Australia: National Health and Medical Research Council (Observer Status)
  • Canada: Genome Canada; Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
  • China: Chinese Cancer Genome Consortium
  • France: Institut National du Cancer
  • Europe: European Commission (Observer Status)
  • India: Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology
  • Japan: RIKEN; National Cancer Center
  • Singapore: Genome Institute of Singapore
  • United Kingdom: The Wellcome Trust; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • United States: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Each ICGC member will conduct a comprehensive, high-resolution analysis of the full range of genomic changes in at least one specific type or subtype of cancer, with studies built around common standards of data collection and analysis. Each project will each require cancer specimens from 500 patients and have an estimated cost of US$20 million.

“Clearly, there is an urgent need to reduce cancer’s terrible toll. To help meet that need, the Consortium will use new genome analysis technologies to produce comprehensive catalogues of the genetic mutations involved in the world’s major types of cancer. Such catalogues will be valuable resources for all researchers working to develop new and better ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer.”

Thomas Hudson M.D., of the ICGC Secretariat, which is based at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto

ICGC member nations will agree to common standards for informed consent and ethical oversight. While the informed consent process will necessarily differ according to each member country’s requirements, the Consortium’s policies state that cancer patients enrolled in an ICGC-related study should be informed that their participation is voluntary, that their clinical care will not be affected by their participation and that data obtained from analyses using their samples will be made available to the international research community. ICGC members will ensure that all samples will be coded and stored in ways that protect the identities of the participants in the study.

To maximize the public benefit from ICGC member research, data will be made immediately available to qualified investigators. In addition, all Consortium participants will agree not to file any patent applications or make other intellectual property claims on primary data from ICGC projects.

The ICGC is open to all entities that agree to its policies and guidelines. A white paper detailing those policies and guidelines is available on the Consortium’s Web site at

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Selected websites

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.

  • The Wellcome Trust

    The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.