Qiagen ($QGEN) aims to develop new tests to target blood cancer patients who would benefit most from a particular treatment that hits a specific gene mutation. The plan could lead to new companion diagnostic tests for related drugs now under development.
The Dutch company disclosed that it has licensed the biomarker SF3B1 from the University of Tokyo. That's an interesting move, considering researchers believe mutations in the gene can help clinicians better treat patients with myelodysplastic syndromes--blood cancers in which the bone marrow can't make enough healthy blood cells.
SF3B1 becomes a lucrative biomarker in this scenario. Blood cancer patients found to have a mutation of this gene may have a cancer that is more treatable than patients who have something called a "wild-type" gene, Qiagen said. In addition, a number of pharmaceutical companies are developing anticancer drugs that target SF3B1. In other words, Qiagen sees the biomarker as something that can help screen for patients who may have a better response to treatment, as well as patients who would respond to a specific drug that targets their gene mutation.
Both options are years away from routine bedside treatment for blood cancer patients. But Qiagen is betting they will pay off, and that the biomarker license will help it get there.
According to Qiagen, SF3B1 isn't the only biomarker included in the University of Tokyo licensing deal. Three others are part of the agreement, and they also appear to be connected to different blood cancers.
Qiagen executive Vincent Fert said in a statement that the SF3B1 biomarker is already part of the company's GeneRead DNAseq Leukemia V2 gene panel for next-generation sequencing. He added that its addition to Qiagen's biomarker roster gives the company "important content" for its "market-leading position in molecular tests for blood cancers." Fert is Qiagen's Personalized Healthcare Program leader.
Qiagen has plowed ahead with diagnostic test development to address a number of medical conditions. Companion diagnostics are also increasingly on its radar screen, as drugmakers increasingly seek tests that can spot patients who will benefit most from their cancer and other treatments.
In May, Qiagen won FDA approval for a companion diagnostic to help screen for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who might benefit most from Amgen's ($AMGN) drug Vectibix. In June, the company gained the FDA's OK for an assay that monitors the viral load of a common virus that can be fatal to weakened immune systems in organ transplant patients.
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