Ventana, Pfizer, CST collaborate on NSCLC companion diagnostic

In its latest of a series of companion diagnostic announcements, Roche's Ventana unit says it is collaborating with Pfizer ($PFE) and Cell Signaling Technology (CST) to develop a test identifying those non-small cell lung cancer patients with anaplastic lymphoma receptor tyrosinekinase gene rearrangements who may benefit from Xalkori. Pfizer received U.S. approval for the drug last August.

The agreement is in line with Ventana's "vision for 'Personalized Healthcare'," and will "further our quest to be the companion diagnostics Partner of Choice to pharma companies worldwide," says President Mara Aspinall in a statement.

Massachusetts-based CST entered an agreement with Pfizer last summer giving the drug giant a worldwide non-exclusive license under the patent estates pooled by CST and Astellas Pharma relating to EML4 anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK). Pfizer and Abbott ($ABT) had inked an agreement in 2009 to develop and commercialize a diagnostic test designed to screen NSCLC tumors for the presence of rearrangements in the ALK gene, CST noted last July.

"CST and one of its partners own dominant rights to the intellectual property directed to the detection of EML4-ALK translocations," says Michael Comb, CST president and CEO, in Tuesday's statement announcing the Ventana deal. "As a leader in the development and manufacture of high performance antibody products, we are thrilled that the strategic R&D and intellectual property investments we've made in the area of EML4-ALK translocation detection are being applied to significant unmet needs in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients."

Analysts have had high hopes for Xalkori, speculating it could add $2.5 billion in peak sales to Pfizer's top line. But the drug carries a hefty price: $9,600 per month, or $115,000 for a year's worth of treatment. Still, it could hold promise for Big Pharma companies like Pfizer, which are eyeing personalized medicine in this post-mega-blockbuster world.

News of the deal comes shortly after the announcement of two separate companion diagnostic agreements Ventana recently inked with AEterna Zentaris and Syndax Pharmaceuticals.

- see the Ventana release