Diagnosis, Treatment and Monitoring of Cancer...
in Real Time!
Cancer diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring can often require a tissue biopsy procedure – an invasive process that can take its toll on patients. Liquid biopsies offer a sustainable, less taxing alternative. To discover how the liquid biopsy approach could transform cancer diagnostics, we caught up with Ilhan Celik, our Senior Global Program Lead for Global Clinical Development…
Ilhan, what is a liquid biopsy and how does it differ from tissue biopsy?
A liquid biopsy is a blood—based test, which offers a faster, less invasive way to retrieve information and characteristics of a person’s cancer by circulating tumor cells or tumor DNA in their blood. The approach uses a blood sample, rather than a potentially invasive tissue biopsy procedure, to identify tumor biomarkers.4 This diagnostic tool is set to accelerate the delivery of precision medicine1,2,3. Nevertheless, tissue-based biopsies remain the gold standard in cancer detection and diagnosis and may still be required under certain conditions for cancer patients. Liquid biopsies may also assist healthcare specialists by improving the reliability, speed, and consistency of results - allowing them to better monitor tumor responses and adjust the patient’s treatment if necessary. 5,6 Plus, laboratory results from a liquid biopsy may be quicker than traditional biopsies, typically available in less than 10 working days.7, 11
Compared with tissue-based diagnostics, what advantages do liquid biopsies offer patients – and the healthcare specialists who apply them?
Compared to the traditional tissue-based approach, a liquid biopsy uses an innovative and minimally-invasive technology to make biopsies at diagnosis and treatment stages easier, faster, and less traumatic for patients - reducing side effects and associated recovery times.11 This enables healthcare specialists to draw comprehensive conclusions about the nature and behavior of a tumor. Hundreds of molecular biomarkers can be analyzed using, for example, next-generation sequencing (NGS) within a single patient sample. The information obtained can be used to personalize relevant therapies, helping each patient get the most from their treatment.6,9 Another advantage of liquid biopsy technology is that it has the potential to simplify and accelerate clinical drug trial enrollment.8 In some cases, a blood sample may be all that’s required to identify and monitor treatment responses.
What Do You Think?
How long does it take to get lab results from a liquid biopsy?
What’s the current state of liquid biopsies, are there any market-ready projects on the horizon?
Research in the field of liquid biopsies and next-generation sequencing, as a tool for cancer diagnostics and treatment, has increased steadily in the past decade.10 Significant progress and improved treatment outcomes have been achieved, with some liquid biopsy tests already available in clinics10. This indicates a major step in cancer/ companion diagnostics and the use of precision medicine in daily practice.10 I expect to see an increase in the use of liquid biopsies in the future, especially in precision medicine-based clinical trials and clinical practice.10
What are the next big steps in the development of liquid biopsy research? Do you foresee any hurdles or challenges?
Challenges remain - including a requirement for tests that are reliable, accurate, and sensitive enough to detect the often extremely low levels of cfDNA (circulating-free DNA) or CTCs (circulating tumor cells) relative to the other cells and molecules also present in blood.8, 10 Plus, these kinds of tests need to be more widespread and cost effective compared to existing diagnostic tests. Scientists are actively pursuing cutting-edge research programs to identify and validate liquid biopsy tests that can identify which cancer patients may benefit from targeted drugs/ treatments.10,11
...can significantly accelerate patient enrollment for important clinical trials.
Liquid biopsy is a promising medical tool, but what about sustainability? How does it contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
In 2012, the United Nations defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address urgent global environmental, political, and economic challenges. Three years later, these goals were adopted by all member states. We are confident that our work will help in realizing these ambitious targets. Our liquid biopsy research for cancer will contribute to goal 3 (Good health and well-being; Target 3.4, reduce early deaths from non-communicable diseases by a third by 2030). We are making progress in helping to develop new, less invasive tests as a basis for innovative and novel treatments, which are based on body fluids and not tissue biopsies. These will enable doctors to more quickly identify and monitor the best treatment for each patient, making precision medicine a cornerstone of clinical practice and help decrease the mortality rate attributed to cancer.
US-NONO-00136 (July 2021)
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- Committee on Policy Issues in the Clinical Development and Use of Biomarkers for Molecularly Targeted Therapies; Board on Health Care Services; Institute of Medicine; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Graig LA, Phillips JK, Moses HL, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Jun 30.
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- Marrugo-Ramírez J. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Oct; 19(10):2877.
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- Saarenheimo J et al. Front. Oncol. 2019 Mar; 9:129.
- Paik P, et al. N Eng J Med. 2020 Sep3;383(10): 931-943.
- Lustberg M, et al. Cancer J. 2018 Mar-Apr; 24(2): 61–64.
- Rossi G et al. Cancer Res 2019 May. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-18-3402.
- Alix-Panabières C, Pantel K, Cancer Discovery 2021;11: 858-73
- De Rubis G et al. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 2019 Mar; 40(3): 172-186