Quest joins forces with French health agency for BRCA research initiative

Quest Diagnostics CEO Steve Rusckowski

Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) is teaming up with France's national health agency to create an expanded database for breast and ovarian cancer gene research, allowing diagnostics outfits and labs to sift through a trove of genetic information to improve outcomes for patients.

Under the initiative, dubbed BRCA Share, companies and public labs can pay an annual fee to access a database with BRCA1 and BRCA2 information. The project builds on an effort from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, which collects and maintains a database of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing data in the country through 16 labs that are part of the Unicancer Genetic Group. The program will be funded on a sliding scale, and research groups and individuals solely focused on BRCA research can participate at no charge, Quest said in a statement.

Mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes often lead to cancer, but patients sometimes receive unclear test results due to variants in their genetic information. Insights culled from the database could help researchers better understand the variants, reducing ambiguous test results and allowing clinicians to assess a patient's risk for developing the disease, the company said in a statement.

"BRCA Share is a new model for public and private collaboration in an age of scientific openness and genomics discovery," Steve Rusckowski, Quest CEO, said in a statement. "This initiative will harness the power of diagnostic insights to illuminate the role of genetics in inherited cancer. It reflects Quest's value as a provider of insights into disease that enable people to take actions to improve their health."

Diagnostics giant LabCorp ($LH) has already signed on to the project, joining the initiative as its first corporate participant. Quest and LabCorp are "actively recruiting" additional members, Madison, NJ-based Quest said in a statement.

The project comes at a critical moment, as diagnostics outfits focus their attention on genomics-based tests for breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics ($MYGN) boasts a sizable chunk of the market, drawing two-thirds of its $778 million in revenue in 2014 from its BRCAnalysis test. But the company now faces increased competition after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found its patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing invalid.

Since then, industry heavyweights such as Quest, LabCorp and Invitae have not wasted any time developing their own genetic-based tests for breast and ovarian cancer. In December 2013, LabCorp unveiled a suite of assays that screen for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Last year, Invitae secured reimbursement for its testing services from Blue Shield of California and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), ramping up demand for its hereditary cancer screening tools.

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