Critical for cancer

U.K.-Italy collaboration aims for precision oncology at scale

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CAMBRIDGE, U.K., BIRMINGHAM, U.K. & L’AQUILA, Italy—Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with nearly 10 million annual deaths. One of the most critical factors in fighting cancer is early detection.
Nonacus Ltd. develops novel next-generation sequencing (NGS) library preparation solutions primarily in the non-invasive healthcare space, based on NGS, targeted DNA sequencing and real-time qPCR kits. The company is now collaborating with Dante Labs, which offers whole-genome sequencing tests and data analysis, and Cambridge Cancer Genomics, which builds software for data-driven precision oncology and systematically develops data-driven biomarkers indicative of treatment response, to provide high-throughput precision oncology at the scale required to address the backlog of patient samples due to the impact of COVID-19.
Cambridge Cancer Genomics (CCG) was already working on independent collaborations with Dante Labs and Nonacus. They recognized the importance of bringing three areas of expertise and three like-minded companies together to provide a service that could link genomic data to treatment plans for oncologists and ultimately improve the outcome for cancer patients. According to the partners, the combined effort and technology will build the most comprehensive, patient-centric tumor profiling service, enabling improved cancer patient management, treatment and monitoring.
“Long turnaround time and lack of clinically oriented analysis are the main obstacles to fully deliver the potential of cancer genomics to patients,” said  Chris Sale, CEO of Nonacus. “This partnership will provide the flexibility and accuracy that oncology professionals need to integrate cancer genomics into the care of their patients.”
Sale added that Nonacus develops NGS products that will provide the extremely high sensitivity needed to detect potential cancer driving mutations in both solid tumor and liquid biopsy samples—some of the hardest-to-analyze samples. He said that the company’s expertise at designing NGS-based oncology products for samples like these will enable Dante Labs to analyze liquid biopsy samples throughout treatment, allowing oncologists to monitor the effectiveness of treatment and spot possible relapses earlier. Liquid biopsy samples are important for patients with cancer where a solid tumor biopsy is not an option, and in monitoring progress when repeated solid biopsy sampling is not possible or feasible.
Dante Labs, one of the biggest, most experienced clinical sequencing hubs in Europe, has the ability to process large numbers of samples for both solid tumors and liquid biopsies. Sale believes that will help significantly reduce the turnaround time to get meaningful results to oncologists, enabling them to adjust treatment plans and ensure patients get the treatment advice they need when they need it.
CCG has an artificial intelligence software platform called OncOS, which will provide the link between the genomic data that Nonacus and Dante Labs generate and the patients’ treatment path. The advanced software program will analyze the genetic profile of the individual patient’s cancer and match it to the most suitable drug or clinical trial, enabling oncologists to make smarter decisions about which drug to use in which circumstance.
As Sale explained, “Improving outcomes for cancer patients means ensuring they have the right drug at the right time to beat their cancer. As each patient’s cancer harbors a unique combination of mutations, a patient-centric approach means identifying the specific genetic profile of the individual’s cancer, rather than relying on its tissue of origin, and looking for the drug or clinical trial that best matches it.”
Because of the collaboration, oncologists will be able to send a biopsy sample to Dante Labs, which will carry out a comprehensive genetic analysis of the patient’s cancer using a Nonacus pan-cancer screening panel, and then carry out bioinformatic analysis of that profile with OncOS. If there are actionable mutations, the report generated will recommend the right treatments for those mutations. If there are novel or unactionable mutations, the software will be able to match possible clinical trials. Oncologists will also be able to use the service to create a personalized Nonacus liquid biopsy panel for their patients that can be used to track the effectiveness of treatment and monitor any relapse.
Said Nirmesh Patel, chief scientific officer at CCG: “With cancer being one of the greatest healthcare challenges we are facing, this partnership opens the door to democratizing access to data-driven cancer treatment.”
By analyzing the patients’ blood for recurrence of their cancer-specific mutations, the service provides a non-invasive, early detection system of treatment success or failure, according to Sale. Data have shown that this approach detects poor treatment response and relapse months earlier than MRI scans, allowing oncologists to change treatment plans sooner and significantly improve patients’ outcome.
Sale concluded, “As the approach offered by this collaboration is extremely sensitive and able to monitor any cancer, independent of tissue of origin, it has the potential to play a critical role in determining effective treatment plans for oncologists and their patients, even those with the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers.”

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