Michelle Hill, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, and The University of Queensland, Australia
Launch of the HPP Pathology Pillar at HUPO2018 was met with great enthusiasm, particularly with the clinical scientist and pathologist travel grant winners. “I was very excited to learn about the establishment of the new Pathology Pillar of the Human Proteome Project”, said Kun-Hsing Yu (Department of Pathology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School, USA). Peter Stewart’s (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney) advice to tackle the “low-hanging fruit”, as a strategy forward particularly struck a chord with Yunki Yau (Gastroenterology Department, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, AUSTRALIA): ‘By improving on current clinical tests that aren’t satisfactory with proteomic techniques and technology, we can foster confidence in our workflows in the wider clinical community.”
The seven travel grant winners, the pathology pillar leaders and the Biology Disease Human Proteome Project Executive Committee members had a productive roundtable meeting in Orlando. HUPO Young Gun, ECR member and clinician-scientist Ferdinando Cerciello (Department of Oncology, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland) moderated the discussion.
In-depth discussions ensued around the topic “Can proteomics speed up drug discovery?””, posed by Ferdinando. Danni Li (Director of Clinical Chemistry, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Minnesota) posed the thought-provoking question, what is proteomics? “To me, proteomics is to measure proteins. In this definition, proteomic technologies have been used for drug discovery for a long time.”, said Danni. Yunki Yau agrees. “Are we fundamentally interested in making MS-based protein assays a clinical instrument? Or do we essentially want clinical legitimacy for protein biomarkers and drug targets, no matter how we do it?” Jesper Kers (Department of Pathology, University of Amsterdam & VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands) also voiced the point “Clinical proteomics should be driven by clinician’s unmet needs, because they are the most important potential end-users of the technique.”
In addition to the current strategy of engaging clinicians & pathologists, there was agreement on the importance of engaging the pharmaceutical companies in future HUPO meetings. Michael Roehrl (Department of Pathology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA) suggested that “we all need to engage directly with biotech and pharma to make functional proteomics a key strategy for the next generation of companion diagnostics.”
Several clinician scientists and pathologists strongly agree with the need for standardization and automation, which was highlighted by several speakers during the HPP track session: Partnering with Pathology Towards Precision Medicine. “I think the HUPO pathology pillar can play a crucial role in standardization of proteomics assays among laboratories in order to assure high quality and reproducible results.”, says Jesper Kers.
Ferdinando’s second discussion point “Can next-gen proteomics biomarkers be as good or better than current imaging/diagnostics?” brought additional discussions around reimbursement and funding of clinical tests. There was general agreement that proteomics can and should add value to the existing tests, with opportunities and strategies to cross barriers discussed in detail. Jesper Kers suggests that “An example where I think mass spectrometry can have an additional value over DNA sequencing is holistic profiling of immune responses, in both the setting of oncology and immunometabolic diseases.”
As 90 minutes quickly passes, Jennifer Van Eyk (Cedars Sinai Medical Center) suggests the preparation and publication of a white paper on the key points and conclusions, as a way forward. With support from the group, Michael Roehrl graciously agrees to lead this endeavour. “We need to work as a community to firmly establish proteomics as the new frontier of theragnostic molecular testing in pathology”, says Michael. From the roundtable and HUPO congress, Margaret Simonian (University of California Los Angeles) was inspired to collaborate between all omics, clinicians and scientist “to advance treatments and diagnostics in clinical medicine and precision medicine.”