Daily Record, April 11, 2016

HeritX nonprofit seeks to prevent inherited cancers

By:  Michael Izzo

A Chester doctor has founded a nonprofit dedicated to preventing inherited cancers, instead of simply treating them after a diagnosis, which he hopes may be the first step in eliminating the disease all together.

Dr. Thomas Bock’s road to creating HeritX began in November 2011, when his wife, Irina, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I suspected immediately that our lives were going to change,” Bock said. “She underwent surgery and chemotherapy, everything you know and read about.”

His wife was also revealed to be positive for a BRCA mutation, which meant her family carried a gene that resulted in a high likelihood of breast, prostate, pancreas, ovarian, and skin cancer.

“What that means is it changed not just our life but the lives of our whole family,” Bock said. “In a way that was more devastating than the diagnosis of cancer.”

Bock said he spent a good deal of his professional career dealing with cancer – he was medical oncologist, former Global Head of Medical Affairs at Novartis Oncology and Celgene, and most recently a member of the executive management team at Alexion – and he reached out to his colleagues for answers.

“I wanted to know what I can tell my children,” Bock said. “To find out what we are developing that they won’t have to worry about it, something preventative. But there was nothing, not even a research initiative to give my family the hope it was looking for.”

Bock said geneticists are able to predict and treat cancers caused by two BRCA gene mutations, but do not know how to prevent it.

“Essentially there was nothing. Everyone wants to spare patients the trauma of cancer, but the vast majority of cancer research and resources still focus on treatment instead of prevention,” Bock said. “It’s a difficult task but I know it can be done, because the first step is knowing there’s a gene mutation that causes it.”

Bock’s wife is cancer free now, but he’s dedicated his life to finding answers. Last year, he founded HeritX, a research and development nonprofit, along with BRCA-positive cancer previvor Joi Morris, to achieve that very goal.

“This opens the door for cancer prevention,” Bock said. “Now that you do know who gets cancer you get a chance to study and medically intervene.” Read more.