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November 09, 2015

Companion Diagnostics for Cancer

Will NGS Play a Role?

Companion Diagnostics for Cancer

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have found that using companion diagnostics during drug development improves the success rate of therapeutics being tested in clinical trials. [iStock/anna1311]

  • Companion diagnostics (CDx), in vitro diagnostic devices or imaging tools that provide information essential to the safe and effective use of a corresponding therapeutic product, have become indispensable tools for oncologists.  As a result, analysts expect the global CDx market to reach $8.73 billion by 2019, up from from $3.14 billion in 2014. 

    Use of CDx during a clinical trial to guide therapy can improve treatment responses and patient outcomes by identifying and predicting patient subpopulations most likely to respond to a given treatment.

    These tests not only indicate the presence of a molecular target, but can also reveal the off-target effects of a therapeutic, predicting toxicities and adverse effects associated with a drug.

    For pharma manufacturers, using CDx during drug development improves the success rate of drugs being tested in clinical trials. In a study estimating the risk of clinical trial failure during non-small cell lung cancer drug development in the period between 1998 and 2012 investigators analyzed trial data from 676 clinical trials with 199 unique drug compounds. 

    The data showed that Phase III trial failure proved the biggest obstacle to drug approval, with an overall success rate of only 28%. But in biomarker-guided trials, the success rate reached 62%. The investigators concluded from their data analysis that the use of a CDx assay during Phase III drug development substantially improves a drug’s chances of clinical success.

  • The Regulatory Perspective

    According to Patricia Keegen, M.D., supervisory medical officer in the FDA’s Division of Oncology Products II, the agency requires a companion diagnostic test if a new drug works on a specific genetic or biological target that is present in some, but not all, patients with a certain cancer or disease. The test identifies individuals who would benefit from the treatment, and may identify patients who would not benefit but could also be harmed by use of a certain drug for treatment of their disease. The agency classifies companion diagnosis as Class III devices, a class of devices requiring the most stringent approval for medical devices by the FDA, a Premarket Approval Application (PMA). 

    On August 6, 2014, the FDA finalized its long-awaited “Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: In Vitro Companion Diagnostic Devices,” originally issued in July 2011. The final guidance stipulates that FDA generally will not approve any therapeutic product that requires an IVD companion diagnostic device for its safe and effective use before the IVD companion diagnostic device is approved or cleared for that indication.

    Close collaboration between drug developers and diagnostics companies has been a key driver in recent simultaneous pharmaceutical-CDx FDA approvals, and partnerships between in vitro diagnostics (IVD) companies have proliferated as a result.  Major test developers include Roche Diagnostics, Abbott Laboratories, Agilent Technologies, QIAGEN), Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Myriad Genetics.

    But an NGS-based test has yet to make it to market as a CDx for cancer.  All approved tests include PCR–based tests, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization technology.  And despite the very recent decision by the FDA to grant marketing authorization for Illumina’s MiSeqDx instrument platform for screening and diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, “There still seems to be a number of challenges that must be overcome before we see NGS for targeted cancer drugs,” commented Jan Trøst Jørgensen, a consultant to DAKO, commenting on presentations at the European Symposium of Biopathology in June 2013. 

    Illumina received premarket clearance from the FDA for its MiSeqDx system, two cystic fibrosis assays, and a library prep kit that enables laboratories to develop their own diagnostic test. The designation marked the first time a next-generation sequencing system received FDA premarket clearance. The FDA reviewed the Illumina MiSeqDx instrument platform through its de novo classification process, a regulatory pathway for some novel low-to-moderate risk medical devices that are not substantially equivalent to an already legally marketed device.

    Dr. Jørgensen further noted that “We are slowly moving away from the ‘one biomarker: one drug’ scenario, which has characterized the first decades of targeted cancer drug development, toward a more integrated approach with multiple biomarkers and drugs. This ‘new paradigm’ will likely pave the way for the introduction of multiplexing strategies in the clinic using gene expression arrays and next-generation sequencing.”

    The future of CDxs therefore may be heading in the same direction as cancer therapy, aimed at staying ahead of the tumor drug resistance curve, and acknowledging the reality of the shifting genomic landscape of individual tumors. In some cases, NGS will be applied to diseases for which a non-sequencing CDx has already been approved.

    Illumina believes that NGS presents an ideal solution to transforming the tumor profiling paradigm from a series of single gene tests to a multi-analyte approach to delivering precision oncology. Mya Thomae, Illumina’s vice president, regulatory affairs, said in a statement that Illumina has formed partnerships with several drug companies to develop a universal next-generation sequencing-based oncology test system. The collaborations with AstraZeneca, Janssen, Sanofi, and Merck-Serono, announced in 2014 and 2015 respectively, seek to  “redefine companion diagnostics for oncology  focused on developing a system for use in targeted therapy clinical trials with a goal of developing and commercializing a multigene panel for therapeutic selection.”

    On January 16, 2014 Illumina and Amgen announced that they would collaborate on the development of a next-generation sequencing-based companion diagnostic for colorectal cancer antibody Vectibix (panitumumab). Illumina will develop the companion test on its MiSeqDx instrument.

    In 2012, the agency approved Qiagen’s Therascreen KRAS RGQ PCR Kit to identify best responders to Erbitux (cetuximab), another antibody drug in the same class as Vectibix. The label for Vectibix, an EGFR-inhibiting monoclonal antibody, restricts the use of the drug for those metastatic colorectal cancer patients who harbor KRAS mutations or whose KRAS status is unknown.

    The U.S. FDA, Illumina said, hasn’t yet approved a companion diagnostic that gauges KRAS mutation status specifically in those considering treatment with Vectibix.  Illumina plans to gain regulatory approval in the U.S. and in Europe for an NGS-based companion test that can identify patients’ RAS mutation status. Illumina and Amgen will validate the test platform and Illumina will commercialize the test.

  • Treatment Options

    Foundation Medicine says its approach to cancer genomic characterization will help physicians reveal the alterations driving the growth of a patient’s cancer and identify targeted treatment options that may not have been otherwise considered. 

    FoundationOne, the first clinical product from Foundation Medicine, interrogates the entire coding sequence of 315 cancer-related genes plus select introns from 28 genes often rearranged or altered in solid tumor cancers.  Based on current scientific and clinical literature, these genes are known to be somatically altered in solid cancers.

    These genes, the company says, are sequenced at great depth to identify the relevant, actionable somatic alterations, including single base pair change, insertions, deletions, copy number alterations, and selected fusions. The resultant fully informative genomic profile complements traditional cancer treatment decision tools and often expands treatment options by matching each patient with targeted therapies and clinical trials relevant to the molecular changes in their tumors.

    As Foundation Medicine’ s NGS analyses are increasingly applied, recent clinical reports describe instances in which comprehensive genomic profiling with the FoundationOne NGS-based assay result in diagnostic reclassification that can lead to targeted drug therapy with a resulting dramatic clinical response. In several reported instances, NGS found, among the spectrum of aberrations that occur in tumors, changes unlikely to have been discovered by other means, and clearly outside the range of a conventional CDx that matches one drug to a specific genetic change.

  • TRK Fusion Cancer

    In July 2015, the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Loxo Oncology published a research brief in the online edition of Cancer Discovery describing the first patient with a tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) fusion cancer enrolled in a LOXO-101 Phase I trial. LOXO-101 is an orally administered inhibitor of the TRK kinase and is highly selective only for the TRK family of receptors.

    While the authors say TRK fusions occur rarely, they occur in a diverse spectrum of tumor histologies. The research brief described a patient with advanced soft tissue sarcoma widely metastatic to the lungs. The patient’s physician submitted a tumor specimen to Foundation Medicine for comprehensive genomic profiling with FoundationOne Heme, where her cancer was demonstrated to harbor a TRK gene fusion.

    Following multiple unsuccessful courses of treatment, the patient was enrolled in the Phase I trial of LOXO-101 in March 2015. After four months of treatment, CT scans demonstrated almost complete tumor disappearance of the largest tumors.

    The FDA’s Elizabeth Mansfield, Ph.D., director, personalized medicine staff, Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health, said in a recent article,  “FDA Perspective on Companion Diagnostics: An Evolving Paradigm” that “even as it seems that many questions about co-development have been resolved, the rapid accumulation of new knowledge about tumor biology and the rapid evolution of diagnostic technology are challenging FDA to continually redefine its thinking on companion diagnostics.” It seems almost inevitable that a consolidation of diagnostic testing should take place, to enable a single test or a few tests to garner all the necessary information for therapeutic decision making.”

    Whether this means CDx testing will begin to incorporate NGS sequencing remains to be seen.  

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