Abbott, Merck keep companion Dx trend going with cancer test

We've been hearing a lot about companion diagnostics lately--especially as to how they can help save the healthcare system money by identifying those patients who might respond to certain treatments. And two big names are keeping in tune with the companion diagnostic theme. Abbott Labs ($ABT) and Merck ($MRK) announced Tuesday that they will evaluate a fluorescence in situ hybridization-based companion diagnostic test to aid in the development of an investigational cancer therapy.

Under the agreement, Abbott will develop a test based on its proprietary FISH technology to identify deletions of the TP53 gene in cancer patients. The companies hope the assay will find those patients most likely to respond to a Merck investigational cancer therapy, according to a release.

"Our goal through this collaboration, and others like it, is to ensure that the right medicine gets to the right patient," explained Stafford O'Kelly, head of Abbott's molecular diagnostics business. "As one of the early pioneers in companion diagnostics, we believe that linking genetic testing with drug development at the earliest stages can increase the effectiveness and predictability of medicines and help physicians make more informed treatment decisions."

Although the release announcing the collaboration is slightly vague, it does bolster the idea that big biopharma companies are paying attention to what can sell in the post-megablockbuster world. Abbott has been active in the arena; in November, for example, it and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals ($GSK) said they were expanding an existing agreement to include the development of an additional companion diagnostic test for a cancer immunotherapy research program.

Late last summer, Abbott scored a major win after the FDA approved Pfizer's ($PFE) Xalkori with Abbott's companion diagnostic test to treat certain patients with late-stage, non-small cell lung cancers. Experts have touted the drug's approval as a big score for Pfizer as it tries to navigate the waters post-Lipitor.

- check out the Abbott/Merck release

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