PCF $3 Million Investment in Circulating Tumor Cells Delivers Ten‐Fold Investment by Johnson & Johnson within Three Years
January 4, 2011 -- This week’s announcement of a Veridex (a Johnson & Johnson company) five-year, $30 million partnership with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital provides another concrete example of PCF’s ability to lead investment in game‐changing research and technology development and parlay its investments into expanded funding for promising projects for patients.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs), found in patients’ bloodstreams, are shed from tumors and may be responsible for metastases. The ability to capture and analyze CTCs from a routine blood draw promises less invasive and better diagnostic tools for prostate and other cancers. CTC “liquid biopsies,” (a term coined in 2007 by PCF for CTC research) can confirm the presence of cancer and provide a tool for researchers to distinguish between the numerous genotypes of prostate cancer, leading to personalized treatments. The ability to actually count cancer cells may also inform physicians if patients are responding to a specific treatment sooner than is currently possible. Studies show that when CTC numbers drop during a course of treatment, it indicates a favorable response to therapy. This ability could alert patients and their physicians when a medicine isn’t working so that new options can be assessed earlier.
As reported recently by ABC, CBS and other leading national media outlets, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital published a paper in 2007 in the journal Nature. The paper announced that they had developed new technology—a microfluidic device—to isolate and catch whole CTCs on a microchip covered with 78,000 micro posts. The tiny posts were coated with antibodies that bind to cancer cells. When blood was forced across the chip, the posts combed a few cancer cells out of billions of blood cells and held them for analysis. In the trial, the microchip successfully captured CTCs in nearly all patients with lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic, and colon cancer. Prostate and lung cancer demonstrated the best results. The Wall Street Journal first reported on this CTC research last year.
In 2008, the Prostate Cancer Foundation made a $2.5 million, multi‐year Challenge Award commitment to fast forward research and development of CTC technology specifically for prostate cancer. It was granted to Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, and his research team at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Challenge Award was made possible by $2.25 million contributed by Bonnie Pfeifer Evans and Charles Evans, Jr. (The Charles Evans Foundation) and Joel Pashkow through PCF’s Pro‐Am Tennis Tour.
By the beginning of 2011, less than three years after PCF’s Challenge Award, Dr. Haber’s PCF‐supported team secured the five‐year, $30 million development partnership with Johnson & Johnson’s Veridex. The goal of the partnership is to commercialize a “Version 3.0” of this innovative technology that is capable of rapid and efficient isolation and analysis of CTCs.
- Currently, each chip costs approximately $500. It is hoped that the new partnership will make the technology easier and more affordable to use.
- Another advantage of isolating CTCs is that medical professionals may someday develop methods to detect gene fusions in captured cells to determine the aggressiveness of a cancer and treat it with the most effective and appropriate therapy. (In 2010, PCF-supported research at the University of Michigan identified 24 separate genotypes—23 of which are gene fusions—for prostate cancer. These may enable scientists to distinguish between the most aggressive prostate cancers and those that are indolent, or non‐life‐threatening.)
- Supported by a separate $15 million grant from Stand Up to Cancer, Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana‐Farber Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan‐Kettering and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are undertaking a joint research project to study CTCs in lung cancer.
- Veridex, LLC, a Johnson & Johnson company, is dedicated to providing physicians with high‐value diagnostic oncology products. Veridex products may significantly benefit patients by helping physicians make more informed decisions that enable better patient care. Veridex's Clinical Research Solutions provide tools and services that may be used for the selection, identification and enumeration of targeted rare cells in peripheral blood for the identification of biomarkers, aiding scientists in their search for new, targeted therapies.
Note from PCF: We anticipate seeing the introduction of this latest version of the technology in clinical trials in approximately 24 months. It will be several years until it is utilized widely in clinical practice. We will continue to update you on progress in CTC applications for prostate cancer, including updates that come out of our annual Scientific Retreat in September.