Roche aims to improve cancer treatments with DNA blood test

Roche has launched a blood test that can identify 70 of the most commonly mutated genes in solid tumours, as the company seeks to make more medicine more personalised.

The test known as FoundationOne Liquid can identify circulating tumour DNA in the blood of people living with cancer and identify the genes including microsatellite instability, a genomic signature that can help inform decisions about treatments based on cancer immunotherapy.

Merck & Co’s cancer immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is already approved in patients with cancers with the high microsatellite instability (MSI-high) signature, and Roche is developing its own immunotherapy Tecentriq (atezolizumab) in combination with Avastin (bevacizumab) in MSI-high colorectal cancer.

Roche said that the new test will allow a quick and convenient option for some patients with solid tumours.

The Swiss company said there is a “compelling need” for the test in cancers where it is impractical to get a tissue biopsy.

For instance in non-small cell lung cancer, around 15% of patients are not eligible for tissue biopsy and approximately 10% have a biopsy size that is insufficient to evaluate.

FoundationOne Liquid complements Roche’s FoundationOne CDx, a tissue-based genomic profiling test launched in the US earlier this year, as part of a portfolio of genomic tests.

Roche’s Sandra Horning

Sandra Horning, Roche’s chief medical officer, said: “Cancer is a disease of the genome and genomic profiling of every patient’s tumour at the start of their treatment journey will provide transformative outcomes for patients.”

While Roche has used circulating tumour DNA – released by tumours into the bloodstream as they grow – to test cancers that doctors have already spotted, the hope is that the technology could be used to screen for cancer before symptoms have appeared.

Grail, the cancer detection start-up backed by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is hoping to use circulating tumour DNA technology to screen for patients with unidentified and undiagnosed diseases.

Cancers can also release cells into the blood stream and companies like Angle, with its Parsortix test, hope to use this approach to identify and diagnose cancers.

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