Personalized Test for Cancer Patients Soon Available

Posted: March 18, 2013 at 11:41 am, Last Updated: March 20, 2013 at 7:08 am

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By Michele McDonald

Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin III are co-directors of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University.

Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin III are co-directors of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University.

Nurtured in the lab by George Mason University researchers, a test to pinpoint the best drug treatment for cancer patients is making its way into doctor’s offices this spring.

“I think this is what you dream about from a research standpoint,” says Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin III, who along with Lance Liotta, co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason, spun off the groundbreaking research in 2006 to create Theranostics Health, Inc.

“The test has the potential to help patients,” says Petricoin, who is on the company’s scientific advisory board with Liotta. “You hear a lot of talk about personalized medicine. This is a unique test that no one else has developed.”

James Cooper, MD, is the chairman of the board for Theranostics and a professor of life sciences and director of medical research development at George Mason University.

James Cooper, MD, is the chairman of the board for Theranostics and a professor of life sciences and director of medical research development at George Mason University.

The test’s simple promise of giving cancer patients and their doctors detailed information about the cancer so they can zero in on the best treatment option is being delivered on this year, says James Cooper, MD, a professor of life sciences and director of medical research development at Mason as well as Theranostics chairman of the board.

How drugs are used to treat cancer has changed as more is known about each cancer and the individual person who is affected. “You used to throw a bomb that wiped out every cell that rapidly divided,” says Glenn Hoke, CEO of Theranostics. “That was the standard of care then.”

The Theranostics test can show which proteins are active in the cancer, says Cooper, who is also a former assistant dean of Georgetown University School of Medicine as well as the former chair of the Inova Fairfax Hospital’s Department of Medicine. Drugs target these proteins so knowing which protein is at work can guide a doctor to the best treatment, he says.

“Drugs have become so specific that oncologists need to have tests that show who should be treated with which therapy,” Hoke adds. The Theranostics test can guide use of several drugs currently available on the market. Many FDA-approved drugs that were originally developed for one type of cancer can be used to combat other cancers.

Also, the test can be expanded to other diseases beyond cancer, Cooper notes.

While big on promise, Theranostics hasn’t had a quick route; in an industry where many biotech startups rise and fall, Theranostics has persevered.

“Theranostics carried the water on this,” Petricoin says. “Hats off to them.”

Theranostics partnered with Lewisville, Texas-based med fusion last year to bring its test directly to physicians in the med fusion network starting in late May-early June. Med fusion was founded by McKesson-owned US Oncology, with support from the Baylor Health Care System, Texas Oncology PA, and Pathologists Biomedical Laboratories LLP with the objective of bringing more targeted diagnostics to market, according to the company.

“This is a big year,” Hoke says for his company.

The med fusion partnership is expected to create the groundwork to put the Theranostics test on the market and help gain reimbursement from health care insurers. Until that happens, Theranostics will underwrite most of the patient’s costs. Hoke estimates it will take about 1,000 tests to produce compelling data for insurers to approve reimbursement.

“You need to build up that clinical utility,” Hoke says. “I have to have doctors saying ‘I want the test.’”

Theranostics is looking to raise another $5 to $7 million, Hoke says. The company raised $2.2 million in 2010. It’s nearing completion of a $1.5 million round this year, he adds. The company has about $2 million in annual sales, mainly from providing testing to pharmaceutical companies.

The firm is working with Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center to help target treatment for metastatic cancer patients. In addition, the company is supporting Duke University’s Duke Cancer Institute researchers who are exploring new prevention and treatment options for breast cancer patients under a five-year Duke clinical research program funded by the Susan G. Komen foundation since 2009.

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

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