Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘genomics’

Following on from yesterday’s update on how proteomics and genomics can help us make better decisions in breast cancer at the Miami Breast Cancer Conference (#MBCC14) organised by PER, today also looks at the complexity of genomics, but from a different lens – can genomics impact the way we actually treat patients?

Interestingly, last week there was a rumour (unconfirmed) that Dr Debu Tripathy (UCLA) was heading to MD Anderson to head up the breast cancer division following Gabriel Hortobaygi’s retirement. That move was confirmed yesterday, with a tweet from Dr Naoto Ueno, who is part of the group:

His talk on the increasing role of genomics in breast cancer on Friday was engaging, thoughtful and well delivered.

It also made me (and several others) stop and think.

To find out why, you can sign in or sign up below.

On Friday, I headed uptown to attend the Miami Breast Cancer Conference (#MBCC14) held at the Fontainebleau Hotel and organised by the Physicians Education Resource (PER).  It was fun to grab a local Deco Bike and furiously cycle over 45 blocks in under half an hour – most probably the only attendee who arrived on two wheels that day!

MBCC14: Dr Lance Liotta

MBCC14: Dr Lance Liotta

Now, I haven’t attended this event since it was at the Loews Hotel in midtown, which was rather low key and fairly small.  Certainly there wasn’t a big exhibition area then, as far I can recall.  Fast forward a decade on and the event is MUCH bigger, with an excellent Academic panel and an interesting mix of didactic talks and case studies.  The stage setting is also much more impressive, as you can see in the photo right.

To give you some basic background, the audience polls at the beginning of the first day were really useful to put things into context:

  1. The majority of attendees (88%) were physicians (mix of Community medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgical oncologists)
  2. 49% of respondents treated 1–5 patients with breast cancer per week
  3. 25% of respondents treated 6–10 patients with breast cancer per week

Being a scientist, and having missed the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) due to an overlap with the American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting in December, I was particularly keen to catch up on the new developments in genomics and molecular profiling, with early morning talks from Drs Lance Liotta (George Mason Univ) and Debu Tripathy (USC).  There were also updates on neoadjuvant treatment for breast cancer by Drs Kathy Albain (Loyola) and Hal Burstein (Dana Farber).  Neoadjuvant therapy prior to surgery is an area that is seeing many new trials and potential therapies emerge.

In today’s post, the attention is on the important topic molecular profiling. This is something I believe we will see much more of going forward.  Two separate articles will follow on personalised treatment in advanced breast cancer (including TNBC) and also on neoadjuvant developments.

Genomics can sometimes be a bit of a dry topic, at least to some people, as anyone who has sat through slide after slide of those fuzzy green-red assays in systems biology sessions at AACR will attest. This time, much to my pleasant surprise, it was different…

What I heard blew my mind and changed the way I think about some aspects of breast cancer.

Now I’m not joking or trying to hype progress here, but sometimes you experience an epiphany when you least expect it.

To read more about this revelation, you can sign up or sign in below.


This weekend I will be at the annual meeting of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) in Fort Lauderdale.

I’m excited about attending because earlier in my career I worked at Alcon Laboratories on European IDE clinical trials for three novel intra-ocular lenses.

ARVO is the ophthalmology equivalent of AACR and is where scientists involved in drug, device research meet to discuss new findings and early stage research.

The title of meeting is “Visionary Genomics.”  After listening to the plenary session at the recent AACR annual meeting by Lynda Chin on how insights from cancer genomics are translating into personalized medicine, I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of genomics on vision research.

Sunday’s ARVO/Alcon keynote presentation is from Roderick McInnes who is the Canada Research Chair in Neurogenetics at McGill University in Montreal.

A presentation that is already generating some advance interest is Sunday’s presentation of the results from the Comparison of Age Related Macular Degeneration Treatments Trials (CATT).

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in those over 65 in the United States, with over 7 million people estimated to be at risk.  Once you have AMD in one eye, you have a 43% risk of developing it in the other eye over a  five year period, a scary statistic!

The first CATT clinical trial is between bevacizumab (Avastin®) and ranibizumab (Lucentis®), both similar anti-VEGF inhibitors that are derived from the same monoclonal antibody.  It will be interesting to see whether the data supports the current practice of off-label use of bevacizumab given its lower cost compared to ranibizumab.

The findings from this data will also potentially impact aflibercept (VEGF-Trap) that is being co-developed by Bayer and Regeneron.  In February, Regeneron submitted a biologics license application (BLA) to the FDA for the use of VEGF-Trap in wet AMD.

The initial results from the aflibercept phase III AMD trial announced late last year showed a non-inferiority to ranibizumab.  If aflibercept is approved and comes to market in 2012, depending on the CATT results, it may have to compete on price against off-label bevacizumab in AMD.  Whether a more convenient injection once every two months for VEGF-Trap (compared to monthly for Lucentis) is sufficient to justify a price premium, it will be interesting to watch the market dynamics in this space.

You can find more about the meeting on the ARVO conference website and they have also put up a blog for the meeting.   The theme of my blog posts over the next few days will be ophthalmology related, and I expect to be live tweeting from ARVO 2011 on Sunday and Monday.  I’ll also be aggregating tweets from the meeting (hashtag #ARVO11) on this blog.


That is the interesting question that struck me after reading Sam Kean’s informative article in the February 4 edition of Science.  Ten years on from the sequencing of the Human Genome, the patenting of human genetic information presents unique challenges at the interface of science, law and innovation.

Researchers have obtained patents for isolating different sections of DNA that occur naturally in our bodies.  Whether this should be permitted is still open to debate. Currently, diagnostic companies who want to launch a new cancer test face the challenge that patents now cover many genes.

The Science article cites start-up Foundation Medicine in Cambridge, MA who estimated the cost of investigating possible patent infringement for a new diagnostic test at $35M, a cost that exceeded the company’s $25M of VC funding.

Add in the costs of any royalties or licensing fees and the issue of prior patents is now a nightmare for any diagnostics company.  It is simply not practical to license every gene that may be implicated in a multifactorial disease such as diabetes.  Pre-existing patents have become a barrier to market entry.

As the Science article reports, gene patents cover not only very small snips of DNA, as short as 15 nucleotides, but can prohibit the sequencing of associated DNA. Companies such as 23andMe that sequence an individual’s genome to test for the presence of certain genes may be violating patent rights of others.

What’s more so called “method” patents cover the linking of a gene sequence with a specific medical condition.

As advances in personalized medicine continue, there is a need to balance the competing interests of protecting scientific discovery and rewarding innovation, while at the same time allowing access to human genetic information that many think should be “free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.” Quotation from Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S.Ct. 3218, 3225 (2010)

A law suit currently on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may lead to a change in the current practices of the US Patent & Trademark Office.  The American Association of Pathologists and others have challenged several patents relating to the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRAC2 held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  The US district court for the Southern District of New York in a surprise decision by Judge Robert Sweet, invalidated Myriad’s patents.  The New York Times article about the case has a link to the Judge’s 156 page opinion.  The decision that isolated but otherwise unaltered DNA should not be patentable is now being appealed by Myriad.

In their legal brief, arguing for the decision to be upheld, the United States Government states:

“The fact that a particular segment of the human genome codes for the BRCA1 protein in a human cell, for example, rather than for adrenaline or insulin or nothing at all, is not within the power of science to alter. Such basic natural relationships may not be the subject of a patent.”

If the District Court’s decision is upheld on appeal, it would represent a fundamental policy shift on what patents can be obtained for human genetic information. Such a decision would prevent Myriad from charging royalties and exclusivity for the genetic testing of BRCA1 and potentially invalidate similar types of patents. Depending on your point of view this will either harm the biotechnology industry or increase the market opportunities.

Given the stakes involved, it is likely the Myriad case will end up being considered by the United States Supreme Court, and what they may decide is anyone’s guess.

To read more in-depth analysis about the Myriad case and the legal issues involved with the patenting of genomic information, I strongly recommend the “Genomics Law Report”, a blog written by Dan Vorhaus and others.

Ten years after the human genome was sequenced we are still working out the intellectual property rights. The question as to whether companies should be allowed to patent unaltered human genes is one that will be answered in the not too distant future.

error: Content is protected !!