Hummingbird Diagnostics buzzes with lung cancer blood test results

Hummingbird Diagnostics believes its screening test can help uncover early cases of lung cancer by plucking small, flitting pieces of tumor RNA from the bloodstream—and potentially provide an alternative to low-dose CT scans, according to the company’s recent study.

The German outfit has its sights set on placing a cancer-detecting blood test in doctor’s offices and front-line clinics at the point of care and, in the future, potentially using dried blood samples collected within the home.

“Early cancer detection remains the most effective strategy to reduce mortality associated with lung cancer,” Hummingbird founder and CEO Jochen Kohlhaas said in the company’s announcement this week.

The company’s miLung test relies on pieces of microRNA, also known as miRNA, that are generated by tumor cells and the immune system and can bind with the larger messenger RNAs involved in the formation of proteins. Hummingbird has also been exploring the use of miRNAs to help predict the responses of non-small cell lung cancer to different immunotherapies as well as in the early detection of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“We envision the miLung test as a noninvasive alternative to LDCT scans for use in primary care settings to improve participation in screening and potentially reduce gender- and race-based disparities in access to lung cancer screening,” Kohlhaas said.

In a study of blood samples taken from more than 1,300 people who met the recommended guidelines for lung cancer screening—namely, moderate to heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 74—the company found its miLung blood test could correctly detect lung cancer about 85% of the time. 

For early cases, such as stage 1 tumors, the test was 73% effective. The test’s accuracy increased across later stages, posting 82% in stage 2 and 90% in stages 3 and 4.

Hummingbird’s blinded study also found that a specific RNA fragment, shed into the bloodstream by lung tumor cells, could be a dominant predictor of cancer—and that evidence of the fragment in subsequent blood tests fell after surgeries to remove the lesion.

The results were published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology this month and presented on a poster earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Multiple other companies are also looking to sift through the blood to catch evidence of lung cancer, albeit for comparatively larger pieces of genetic material—Delfi Diagnostics’ cell-free DNA test, for example, previously showed it could spot 80% of early-stage cases in a 2021 study—while still others include the search for lung cancer among multiple tumors as part of a multicancer early detection test, such as Exact Sciences, Freenome, Guardant Health and Grail.