J&J Unit to Develop Blood Test to Find Cancer Cells

Cancer blood test
Cancer blood test

Detecting cancer cells isn't always easy, especially when only a few tumor cells are mixed among many healthy ones. But Veridex, a Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) company, today announced a collaboration aimed at developing exactly such a blood test. With Massachusetts General Hospital and another J&J's unit, Ortho Biotech Oncology Research & Development, Veridex will focus on developing a next-generation blood test that would capture, count and characterize tumor cells found in patients' blood.

Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are cancer cells that have detached from the tumor and are found at extremely low levels in the bloodstream, which could mean the cancer has spread further.

Right now, Veridex is the only company to have brought CTC technology to the U.S. market with its CellSearch in-vitro diagnostic test. But the procedure only counts tumor cells in the blood. While it can help with prognosis, it can't help analyze the cells to choose the best treatment. That's where the new technology would come in.

Replacing Painful and Invasive Biopsies?

The new technology to find circulating tumor cells could be used not only as a diagnostic tool to personalize care, Veridex says, but as a research tool as to improve the process of drug discovery and development. The technology could specifically isolate and explore the biology of rare cells at the protein, RNA and DNA levels, the company said.

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If successful, the blood test could ultimately replace more invasive and painful ones such as biopsies. Further, doctors and patients could get a better idea on the progress of the cancer, replacing scans and other measures.

"This new technology has the potential to facilitate an easy-to-administer, noninvasive blood test that would allow us to count tumor cells, and to characterize the biology of the cells," said Robert McCormack, Head of Technology Innovation and Strategy in a statement. "Harnessing the information contained in these cells. . .could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding."

Nicholas Dracopoli, VP of Biomarkers at Ortho Biotech, one of the project's collaborators, added: "The role of CTCs in drug discovery and development is growing as new technologies allow us to use CTCs for the first time as templates for novel DNA, RNA and protein biomarkers."