Simple Cancer Biomarkers are Inadequate to Enable Personalized Medicine

It seems that researchers are finding that using single cancer biomarkers to develop companion diagnostics (CDx’s) to be used with future targeted therapeutics is very challenging. An article in the November 15 issue of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, called Traversing the Cancer Biomarker Labyrinth, by Kathy Liszewski, is a very interesting read.

Apparently progress in this field has slowed in finding clinically useful biomarkers for diagnostics and making other tests that guide doctors for disease prognosis and prediction. Researchers are using a variety of reductionist technical approaches that range from analysis of certain glycans, key microRNAs, and epigenetic changes, to big data analysis of massive data stores of genomic data to tease out more clues to what is going on in cancers.

Scientists seek to develop early detection blood tests that can detect cancers of interest.  Such a blood test could be considered a ‘liquid biopsy’ and might include a panel of a dozen or more miRNAs that represent a biomarker signature.  An oncologist might one day be enabled to quickly screen certain patients with a blood test that would help them diagnose, stage or predict the potential outcome of a cancer.

Acute Need for Early Warning Dx for “Silent Killer” Cancers

There is a need for early warning diagnostics to detect “silent killer” cancers such as pancreatic, liver, GI and lung cancers. Most of these cancers are discovered at the late stage when acute symptoms appear and no cure is possible.  Maybe an annual simple screening test could be developed that could accurately detect a molecular signature of these cancers.

It is a very sad situation indeed to see patients die just after two, four or six weeks post-diagnosis.  Just this past weekend, our co-writer and industry analyst for this blog and our market research firm succumbed to an aggressive cancer of unknown primary origin that spread to the liver.  She died in less than five weeks from diagnosis.  The FDG- PET CT scan showed active cancers in the liver, pancreas, uterus and breast. Ultimately the oncologist concluded that the cancer likely came from the pancreas. May she rest in peace.

Close relatives interested in getting a PET scan for themselves were advised that the Radiology Dept. would only offer a PET scan after a patient was already diagnosed to have cancer.  Whereas a PET scan is good at detecting cancer, it is a very expensive resource that hospitals choose to limit access to.

What is needed is an annual pre-symptomatic, accurate, low-cost multiple-molecular-marker, blood test that can screen for cancer at the earliest point – before a tumor is formed. The screening test would likely use a panel of biomarkers associated with the “silent cancers.”

ThermoFisher Aims to Get FDA OK for its Ion Torrent PGM

By Paula Myers

At this year’s CHI Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference at the Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, February 11th, there were over 3000 attendees and more than 200 exhibitors. I visited some of the many booths on the exhibit floor. One of those was the ThermoFisher booth. I spoke with Zhen Mahoney,Sr. Clinical Sales Specialist/Pharma Business. Mahoney talked about the acquisition of Life Technology and how it affects ThermoFisher.  Thermo will have to absorb Life’s 9,000 employees. Thermo currently has 40,000 employees. Mahoney pointed out that Life has a broad product portfolio. Ion Torrent, which Life acquired in 2010, is located at Oyster Point near South San Francisco. The rest of company is located at Carlsbad, California, near San Diego, including the Invitrogen and Gibco brands. These groups are staying intact, according to Mahoney.

She also pointed out that the company submitted an application for 510K marketing clearance to the FDA for its Ion PGM system for use as a diagnostics medical device. They are hoping for a 3 to 4 month approval timeframe. By comparison, the Illumina MiSeq took about 9 months to get FDA 510K approval because it was the first of its kind. The Illumina MiSeq received a relatively fast approval because the company worked closely with FDA reviewers so that they can understand its technology. The MiSeq platform serves as a template to the FDA for follow-on platforms from Illumina and other desktop sequencer vendors. Mahoney said that the next revision for their Ion Torrent electronic P-2 Chip is coming later in 2014. It will have 660 million wells.

Some of the other firms that I visited included: Guardant Health, Diagenode, and Epitomics. I focused on companies involved in epigenetics. Guardant Health is a two-year-old service company for individuals. In February, they released GUARDANT360, the first pan-cancer blood test that provides doctors with real-time genetic information to help them prescribe the right treatments for their cancer patients.

  Diagenode is a company originally from Belgium and sells Japanese made disruptor shearing machines such as the Bioruptor Pico for DNA, chromatin, and RNA shearing. Epitomics, located in Burlingame, California, offers custom antibody services for use in epigenetics research. Li Fang, Project Manager of Custom Antibody Services at Epitomics, said that Abcam is buying the company. Abcam is a supplier of antibodies,proteins, kits and reagents.

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