Illumina, MSKCC collaborate for ctDNA studies

The companies will focus on furthering the current understanding of circulating tumor DNA and validating a ctDNA assay

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NEW YORK & SAN DIEGO—Memorial Sloan Ketting Cancer Center (MSKCC) and Illumina Inc. have begun a collaboration to undertake research studies to aid in understanding the biology of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and establish its place as an important marker in studying and treatment cancer. The studies will seek new strategies to diagnose and monitor cancer.
“This relationship between Illumina and MSK will create important data regarding the value, the significance and the potential applications of measuring ctDNA via deep sequencing,” Dr. Rick Klausner, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Illumina, said in a press release. “Is ctDNA not simply equivalent to, but superior to current methods of cancer diagnosis and monitoring? Can we replace expensive and invasive monitoring with a blood test? Does ctDNA reflect the total burden of cancer clones, and is it equivalent to or better than biopsies at predicting outcome and therapeutic response? These are the types of questions we will work towards answering.”
The current method for securing tumor samples and DNA—biopsies—are both invasive and risky, and, depending on the cancer type and location, often are not possible. In addition, a single biopsy might not be able to give an accurate representation of a person's cancer situation given the heterogeneity of tumors. That is where the potential of ctDNA comes in. Dying tumor cells release small pieces of their DNA—known as cell-free ctDNA—into a patient's bloodstream, where it can be detected through a simple blood sample and DNA sequencing.
In these studies, the MSKCC will collect samples from multiple cancer types while Illumina leverages its best-in-class sequencing technology to detect ctDNA in those samples, with the goal of validating a ctDNA assay that can demonstrate correlation between ctDNA signal and cancer burden.
“The possibility of reducing the number of invasive and expensive diagnostic and monitoring procedures with a simple blood draw is a game-changer for cancer patients and for oncology,” commented Dr. Jose Baselga, physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at MSKCC.
In other recent partnering news for MSKCC, Cesca Therapeutics Inc. announced a collaboration agreement with the Center for Immune Cell Therapies (CICT) at MSKCC, focused on the CellWerks portfolio of devices for intra-laboratory stem cell purification applications. Per the agreement, CICT will apply Cesca's latest version of the AutoXpress platform under Cesca's “Early Technology Access Program,” specifically in a CICT-initiated study in the Adoptive Immune Cell Therapy Facility.
Mitchel Sivilotti, senior vice president and chief biologist at Cesca Therapeutics, remarked, “This agreement represents an important step forward for our hematology/oncology stem cell transplant program. This particular development initiative supports immuno-oncology, a field that has become a major focus of big pharma in the last year. The leading global pharmaceutical manufacturers have robust pipelines focused on isolating and using specialized cells to attack different types of cancers. The collaboration represents an example of Cesca’s drive to position its CellWerks device platform in this highly valued life-saving space.”

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