As pharma companies and researchers compete to develop new cancer medicines, a similar type of competition is underway to speed up the detection of cancers. Diagnostic tests to detect cancer biomarkers in the blood, or so called liquid biopsies, promise a more comprehensive, and less invasive, way of diagnosing the disease than traditional methods.
Although commercial applications remain limited to improving treatment selection for late-stage cancers, a few companies currently market liquid biopsies. Companies are working to broaden the potential market, pushing development into earlier cancer stages. This field could prove to be extremely profitable, being that if liquid biopsies can prove effective as a diagnostic tool, some in the industry predict the market’s value could shoot up to anywhere from $20 billion to over $100 billion. For that to happen, liquid biopsy companies will have to figure out how to make the tests more accurate and prove they can actually improve patient outcomes.
How do they work?
For most tumors, a tissue biopsy is quite challenging: it is painful, costly and even risky for patients. That being the case, certain fragments of DNA shed by tumors into the bloodstream can be used to screen for early-stage cancers in a non-invasive manner. This explains why some cancers are resistant to therapies and monitor responses to treatment. The development of noninvasive methods to monitor and detect tumors continues to be a major challenge in oncology. Cell-free circulating tumor DNA and circulating tumour cells are plasma sources of tumor DNA that have been investigated for noninvasive, possibly early, detection. Early detection is the key to cancer research. The earlier the cancer can be detected, the better the results.
Liquid biopsies have generated a lot of interest and excitement because they provide a noninvasive picture of a patient’s cancer. They offer valuable insight into what the best way is to fight it, provide information about stage, and give an early warning about possible recurrence. Other uses and benefits include:
- Monitoring of the effects of cancer treatment and offer clues to the reasons for treatment resistance
- Providing powerful implications for overseeing patient care.
- Taken much more easily than tissue biopsies, which often are not repeated. With more data and information, doctors can see in real time if a patient’s cancer has mutated in response to a therapy and make changes into a more effective treatment.
- Can be used in clinical trials, such as drug studies.