The International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) today set out its bold plan to decode the genomes from 25,000 cancer samples and create a resource of freely available data that will help cancer researchers around the world. The publication outlines research design and projects as well as the important ethical framework for this science.

The ICGC also announced that new projects in Italy and the European Union will contribute to efforts already underway in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As the UK's arm of the ICGC, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will decode hundreds of breast cancer genomes as part of the Consortium's international efforts.

Other funded projects will examine more than 10,000 tumours for cancer types that affect organs including blood, brain, breast, colon, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, stomach, oral cavity and ovary.

The paper, by over 200 authors participating in ICGC projects, is published today in the journal Nature. The paper describes how the projects will proceed, outlining the ethical framework, study design and policies. ICGC leaders will also present progress on their projects at the annual conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington DC, 17 – 21 April, 2010.

"Generating comprehensive catalogues of human cancer mutations will require a tremendous amount of work and collaboration over the coming years," says Professor Mike Stratton, joint leader of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's Cancer Genome Project. "By sharing ideas, resources and data across scientific and clinical disciplines, we will be able to translate advances in knowledge into real benefits for future generations of patients."

Studies of breast, liver, and pancreatic cancer have already generated datasets which are now available on the ICGC website. In a study published last year, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute made available the results of the first detailed search for genomic rearrangements in breast cancer genomes and complete genome sequences of a melanoma and small cell lung cancer. Other analyses of tumours conducted by ICGC members in Japan (liver cancer) and Australia and Canada (pancreatic cancer) have also been made available. The data are housed in the Data Coordination Center which is hosted by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto.

" By sharing ideas, resources and data across scientific and clinical disciplines, we will be able to translate advances in knowledge into real benefits for future generations of patients. "

Professor Mike Stratton

"The International Cancer Genome Consortium initiative will profoundly alter our understanding of the development of human cancer, across the spectrum of tumour types," says Sir Paul Nurse, cancer scientist and 2001 Nobel Laureate for Physiology or Medicine. "The worldwide, coordinated nature of the project and the plans for data release will facilitate efficient deployment of resources and ensure that all cancer researchers can use the information generated in a timely manner."

"The data released today can be used immediately by researchers who are working on better ways of preventing, detecting, diagnosing and treating cancer," says Professor Eric S Lander, President and Director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a member of ICGC. "The ability to identify the genetic changes in cancer is leading to new ways to devise therapies directed at the underlying cellular mechanisms of cancer and to target the right therapies to the right patients. We are moving into an era where the prescription for cancer treatment should be based on the genetics of each patient's tumor."

The International Cancer Genome Consortium is one of most ambitious biomedical research efforts since the Human Genome Project. The Consortium will help to coordinate current and future large-scale projects to understand the genomic changes involved in cancer. ICGC member organisations and participating centres have agreed upon common standards for informed consent and ethical oversight to 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 rapidly 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.

Worldwide, more than 7.5 million people died of cancer and more than 12 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2007. Unless progress is made in understanding and controlling cancer, those 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 be the result of genetic mutations in cells which disrupt normal functions leading to uncontrollable growth. Because mutations are often specific to a particular type or stage of cancer, systematically mapping the changes that occur in each cancer could provide the foundation for research to identify new therapies, diagnostics and preventive strategies.