Quest, LabCorp team to build database of cancer genetics

Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) has teamed up with French human health research institute Inserm to pool and share BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic data. LabCorp ($LH) has signed up as the first participant in the program, giving it a sizable reach from day one.

Quest Diagnostics CEO Steve Rusckowski

Members of the initiative--called BRCA Share--will contribute deidentified clinical testing data on BRCA1 and BRCA2, variants of which increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The project builds on a decade-long initiative in France to gather and curate gene data in the Universal Mutation Database (UMD), on which Inserm has worked with the 16 laboratories that comprise the French Unicancer Genetic Group. UMD currently lists 7,211 variations in its database, a figure that could increase as the reach of the data-gathering program expands.

Quest and LabCorp are both massive testing organizations. And both have committed to actively recruiting new members into BRCA Share. The pitch is that by pooling data, laboratories will be able to uncover details of the role of genetics in inherited cancer that would remain hidden in smaller, single-company repositories. Noncommercial individual investigators and academic researchers can access the data simply by agreeing to the terms and conditions. But Reuters reports that private laboratories may pay upward of $100,000 for access.

By pooling resources, LabCorp, Quest and others can potentially make up lost ground on Myriad Genetics ($MYGN), which used to hold a patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2. The Supreme Court invalidated the patent in 2013--clearing other companies to enter the market--but the head start gave Myriad a sizable database. This advantage may now be under threat. "We believe Myriad possesses the highest quality database, and more robust competing databases could impair Myriad's competitive advantage," Wells Fargo Analyst Tim Evans wrote in a note to investors.

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