MGH test for cancer gets backing
$30m agreement aims to develop, expand use
Carolyn Y. Johnson
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have already developed a prototype of a microchip that can detect tumor cells at extremely low levels in the bloodstream. The effort to be announced today intends to draw on the expertise of scientists familiar with how to bring such technologies to patients and doctors.
“We’re limited by our ability to make it fast, easy, cheap, and something that could be done on a global scale,’’ said Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the MGH Cancer Center. “Our goal is to build together a third-generation technology. . . that would be so easy to use and so standard, it wouldn’t have to be a research tool.’’
By detecting cancer cells through a blood test, doctors could better follow the disease’s course — looking to see whether the level of cancer cells circulating drops with treatment. It would also allow doctors to test the genetics of the cancer cells, considered by doctors to be critical because many cancer drugs are targeted treatments that work against a cancer with a particular mutation.
Because bloodstream-borne cancer cells are extremely rare — with about one cancer cell per billion blood cells — the technology must be able to detect extremely rare cells.
Already, the Boston researchers have developed a prototype and they, along with four other research institutions, have received a $15 million grant from the organization Stand Up to Cancer to test the prototype. But that technology is expensive and complicated to use, with each chip costing about $500.
Now, Mass. General researchers will work together with Veridex LLC, a Johnson & Johnson company, and Ortho Biotech Oncology R&D, a unit of the pharmaceutical giant, drawing on their expertise in areas such as clearing regulatory hurdles and clinically validating new tests. Haber said that it is roughly a $30 million deal, depending in part on achieving intermediate milestones and successes.
The investment is a powerful vote of confidence for the technology, but the chip is in the experimental stages, and it is impossible to know now how successful it will be in guiding cancer treatment. Haber said the test has been used experimentally in about 200 patients. Haber co-leads the project with Mehmet Toner, director of the BioMicroElectroMechanical Systems Resource Center at Mass. General.
To detect the extremely rare cells, the new technology uses minuscule channels carved into a silicon chip, coated with a special glue-like substance. When the blood filters through the channels, Haber said, the technology is able to pick up, on average, about 10 cancer cells per milliliter of blood in patients with metastatic cancer, disease that has spread from a primary tumor to other parts of the body.
“If the technology gets more and more sensitive, we may be able to use this as an early diagnostic,’’ Haber said. “You might be able to pick up any tumor which invades into the blood system, and that could mean there is a chance of catching tumors before they spread.’’
The deal is part of a broader effort at Mass. General to push scientific breakthroughs and promising basic research into potential clinical applications faster.
“What we’re trying to do is to develop a more efficient process for translating our early-stage innovations to the point where they can impact patient care,’’ said Frances Toneguzzo, executive director of the office of research ventures and licensing at Partners HealthCare. “We’re doing that by, at least in this case, partnering with a company that can provide the market information and help us with regulatory’’ hurdles.
Veridex, the company that is partnering with Mass. General, has already successfully brought to market one technology used to detect circulating tumor cells.
“This new technology has the potential to facilitate an easy-to-administer, non-invasive blood test that would allow us to count tumor cells, and to characterize the biology of the cells,’’ Robert McCormack, head of technology innovation and strategy at Veridex, said in a statement.
June 2021 May 2021 April 2021 March 2021 February 2021 January 2021 December 2020 November 2020 October 2020 September 2020 August 2020 July 2020 June 2020 May 2020 April 2020 March 2020 February 2020 January 2020 December 2019 November 2019 October 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 June 2019 May 2019 April 2019 March 2019 February 2019 January 2019 December 2018 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 August 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 February 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008