Imagine identifying individual risk for a specific cancer, detecting a tumor not yet visible, profiling tumors to personalize therapies or closely monitoring treatment to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients and all of that just by analyzing simple blood samples.
In working with the 2015-formed European consortium CANCER-ID, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), QIAGEN is helping to bring the tremendous promise of liquid biopsies into routine clinical practice.
Prof. Klaus Pantel, Head of the Institute for Tumor Biology at University Hospital Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, is a pioneer in the field of cancer micrometastasis, circulating tumor cells, and ctDNA.
As an academic, what do you expect from collaborative research with industry partners?
Cooperating with industry players creates an important link between scientific publications and products. For instance, there are a number of academic research programs for biomarkers, and a few thousand have certainly been published, but there are still too few diagnostics that have reached the clinic.
What exactly does CANCER-ID do to create that link?
It’s not about developing new products but testing well-known biomarkers and the corresponding technologies for applications, such as liquid biopsy. Very few of the currently available products are certified, so we doctors don’t always know exactly when to best use which product.
Which personal goals do you hope to achieve?
I’ve worked as a scientist for more than 30 years, collecting achievements, publishing numerous papers, being able to do research at a first-class university – and yet my scientific career would be a personal disappointment if none of it led to products that improve patient care. In this light, liquid biopsy is a great step for cancer patients: it’s a less harmful and a potentially more effective tool. It combines the needs of all stakeholders: aiding physicians in making better decisions, helping healthcare systems to become cost-efficient and improving outcomes for people suffering from cancer.
Dr. Thomas Schlange, Senior biomarker scientist at Bayer AG and a chemist by training, is the coordinator of CANCER-ID on behalf of companies belonging to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).
For CANCER-ID, companies cooperate instead of competing – does that work?
Yes, because it is a project on a precompetitive research level, tackling fundamental questions that can´t be solved by a single company or university alone.
Where do you see liquid biopsy’s potential?
First, monitoring – as soon as we pick up weak signals in the blood, we can change or adjust treatment early. Second, minimally invasive applications for very ill patients who have been taxed by multiple therapies. Third, a heterogenous look at the tumor – we can show the growth of metastases and depict all information for the residual tumor.
With a tissue sample, we can only see the data that a single section delivers. What motivates you personally?
I want to decrease the patient’s burden and increase the prospect of a successful treatment. In addition, the interdisciplinary work excites me, especially the cooperation with the patients’ groups. It shows us what we work for, and how much of that actually reaches patients.
Joining forces to defeat cancer
Public and private institutions, major players and mid-sized companies, academics and clinicians are joining their considerable forces to fight cancer. The 38 members of the CANCER-ID consortium have one mission: to identify and establish the clinical validity of novel blood-based biomarkers for cancer and establish protocols for the processing of the corresponding samples. Their work aims to improve treatments and outcomes for cancer patients. Their mode of operation: working tirelessly, collaborating and communicating across borders. In addition, feedback from regulatory agencies (EMA/FDA) and patient advocacy groups like Mammazone is taken into account by the project, coordinated by the University of Hamburg, University of Twente, Bayer AG and Menarini Group. QIAGEN, a pioneer in the field of liquid biopsies, announced in 2017 that it had joined the consortium to support the standardization efforts with its technologies and expertise. QIAGEN is the only company providing basic and clinical researchers with Sample to Insight solutions for all three emerging liquid biopsy approaches: circulating cell-free nucleic acids, circulating tumor cells and exosomes.
For more information, see the Cancer ID website.