MD Anderson and Madison, Wis.-based Exact Sciences Corp. have announced a partnership to co-develop and commercialize several blood-based screening and diagnostic tests for lung cancer.
The goal is to detect lung cancer earlier, when there’s a greater probability of defeating it. Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed after symptoms appear — when the five-year survival rate is low. But when diagnosed earlier, the five-year survival rate can climb to 80%.
“Lung cancer is, and will continue to be, America’s leading cancer killer unless we identify new approaches to diagnose it early, at its most treatable stages,” said Sam Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., director of MD Anderson’s Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer.
Hanash is leading a study at MD Anderson to create a simple, noninvasive blood test that detects and diagnoses lung cancer. The test will hunt for tumor markers — microscopic telltale proteins or other molecules produced by the body in response to cancer.
“Our goal is to choose the best-performing biomarkers,” Hanash said, “as opposed to the more common practice of relying on a single type of biomarker.”
One of the planned tests would determine the need for low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans, which combine a series of X-ray screens from different angles and can be used to detect lung cancer. The test would be used to screen the nearly 11 million Americans who are current or former smokers at high risk for developing lung cancer.
Another proposed diagnostic test would assess the malignant status of tumors found by CT scans or other imaging tests. Lung nodules — growths on the lungs that may or may not be cancerous — are discovered in 4 million Americans annually.
Currently, a low-dose CT scan is the primary method of screening for lung cancer. While CT scans are good at detecting tumors, they also create a large number of false positives. Ninety-six percent of all nodules found by CT scans are benign, which leads to unnecessary and often harmful invasive procedures, radiation exposure, and high costs.
“In contrast, a simple blood draw that could be done at a physician’s office, perhaps as part of a patient’s annual blood test, could improve early lung cancer detection and screening accessibility,” said Hanash.
The partnership between MD Anderson and Exact Sciences combines MD Anderson’s biomarker expertise with Exact Sciences’ successful track record in developing and commercializing diagnosic tests. The company developed and commercialized Cologuard, the only FDA-approved, non-invasive colon cancer screening test.
Read the full press release on MD Anderson's website.