AACR: Thrive's early blood test doubles real-world cancer screening rates

Thrive Earlier Detection has a clear, straightforward vision: help find cancers as early as possible, when they are most likely to be cured, by using a simple blood test. 

To prove it can work, the Fierce 15 winner took on a large study with an equally straightforward premise. Thrive put its blood test out in the field, tapping about 10,000 women with no prior history or current signs of cancer, and observed how it changed real-world clinical practice.

In cooperation with the Geisinger Health System and Johns Hopkins University, where its tech was first developed, researchers found its blood test more than doubled the number of cases detected by traditional diagnostics, from 25% to 52% when added to a routine workup—and also revealed several cancers that have no standard screening methods, such as mammograms or colonoscopies.

The test identified tumors from 10 different organs, with 65% of the cases found before any signs that the disease had metastasized and spread further throughout the body. The results were then provided to physicians to inform their next steps.

"This study is a seminal moment in cancer screening that advances the entire field," said Christoph Lengauer, Thrive’s co-founder and chief innovation officer. “We learned that it can be both complementary to existing standard-of-care screening tools, and a significant benefit for many types of cancers like ovarian, appendix and kidney, which do not have any current screening modalities."

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When used in combination with PET-CT imaging scans, the screening method showed a false-positive rate of less than 0.5%, and it was able to guide clinical follow-up in positive patients with zero side effects, the company said.

The prospective study used an earlier version of the company’s CancerSEEK blood test, first developed in 2016, which analyzes genes and proteins linked to multiple cancers. The trial's results were presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research by Johns Hopkins' Nickolas Papadopoulos, professor of oncology and co-founder of Thrive, alongside a publication in Science.

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Overall, Thrive's blood test's sensitivity was 27.1% across all cancers. Of the thousands of women who enrolled in the study, 96 went on to develop cancer: 26 first identified by Thrive’s blood test, 24 by standard screening methods, and 46 after symptoms developed or by other means. 

Twelve of the cancers detected by the blood test had tumors that were able to be surgically removed. The study plans to follow all participants through the health system for five years.

“We believe that more than two-thirds of cancers that occur in the U.S. can eventually be screen-detected, either by blood testing or standard screening, before they cause symptoms of disease,” said Bert Vogelstein, co-founder of Thrive and co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Such earlier detection has the capacity to substantially reduce suffering and death from many cancer types.”