The DNA sequencing company Illumina have announced collaborations
with three major pharmaceutical companies - AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Johnson
& Johnson - to develop a single test for several gene mutations to better guide cancer treatment.
The project may represent a move away from the current
paradigm of 'companion diagnostics', where a gene test will check for just one
mutation indicating whether or not a single drug can be used, and towards one
where a test can indicate the suitability of several drugs.
Dr Ruth March, AstraZeneca's vice-president, personalised
healthcare and biomarkers, said that Illumina's partnership with her company 'had the potential to deliver an
unprecedented amount of clinical information from a single test. Illumina's
technology will inform doctors about the molecular make-up of their patients'
tumours, enabling them to match medicines to the drivers of disease'.
Initially, AstraZeneca plans to use Illumina's technology to
develop a companion diagnostic test for one of its investigational oncology compounds, as part of a
clinical trial. In the long term, the aim is to roll out the technology for use
across AstraZeneca's oncology portfolio.
Illumina claims its next-generation-sequencing technology
allows for faster and cheaper sequencing than traditional techniques. It will
be used to screen a wide panel of genes for any possible mutations, known and
unknown, rather than looking for specific mutations.
So far, around 125 genes have been identified which, when
mutated in cancer, can drive the cancer's growth. Although few therapies targeted
against cancer driver genes are yet available, around 800 oncology drugs are in
development, and many are designed to act against specific gene mutations.
As a result, there is a growing demand for cancer gene tests
for use in guiding clinical trials, as well as in current medical practice.
growing need is reflected in the fact that, just as Illumina has struck up
partnerships with Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca has teamed up with Roche
and Qiagen, in a project
also aimed at personalising cancer treatment through gene sequencing.
In an interview with Forbes, Illumina's chief medical
officer Dr Richard Klausner says the pendulum is swinging from companion
diagnostics to 'companion therapeutics' where all cancer drugs would be paired
with the same test.
The Illumina-AstraZeneca deal, she continued, is
'the type of collaboration that will make real progress for patients'.