Illumina, Sloan Kettering partner to develop circulating tumor DNA diagnostics

Memorial Sloan Kettering and Illumina ($ILMN) have partnered to do research to better understand the biology of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA). The NYC-based cancer center and the genomics giant expect to develop new cancer diagnostic and monitoring strategies based upon that work.

The pair argue that it's invasive, risky and often not even possible to conduct traditional biopsies to acquire tumor DNA. In addition, a single biopsy will not measure the heterogeneity that is often represented in tumors. But since dying tumor cells release small pieces of DNA into the bloodstream, the researchers expect blood sampling to offer an alternative source of tumor DNA for sampling.

Rick Klausner

"This relationship between Illumina and MSK will create important data regarding the value, the significance and the potential applications of measuring ctDNA via deep sequencing," said SVP and CMO of Illumina Dr. Rick Klausner in a statement. "Is ctDNA not simply equivalent to, but superior to current methods of cancer diagnosis and monitoring?"

"Can we replace expensive and invasive monitoring with a blood test? Does ctDNA reflect the total burden of cancer clones, and is it equivalent to or better than biopsies at predicting outcome and therapeutic response? These are the types of questions we will work towards answering," he continued.

It remains unclear if analysis of ctDNA will ultimately supplement existing cancer diagnostics and monitoring or will, perhaps, provide a superior alternative to some of the existing approaches.

"The possibility of reducing the number of invasive and expensive diagnostic and monitoring procedures with a simple blood draw is a game-changer for cancer patients and for oncology," added MSK Physician-in-Chief and CMO Dr. Jose Baselga.

Illumina has been exceptionally active on the deal front of late. It recently completed its acquisition of genetic analysis system startup GenoLogics. The genomics company also partnered up with financiers Warburg Pincus and Sutter Hill Ventures as well as the Mayo Clinic and LabCorp to create Helix, a consumer diagnostics outlet in mid-August, as well as did a collaboration with Chinese diagnostics company Burning Rock to develop molecular diagnostics.

- here is the announcement