The diagnostics company Biocartis is collaborating with Kite Pharma to monitor the progress of CAR T-cell therapies in patients to better manage side effects.
CAR T-cell therapies have revolutionized the way we treat cancer. Instead of giving the patient a classical drug, companies can inject them with living, genetically engineered cells that kill cancer cells. However, these treatments can come with serious side effects. Monitoring CAR T-cell therapies is essential for reducing side effects, but current methods for doing this aren’t rapid enough to warn about side effects before they happen.
Biocartis and Gilead-owned Kite Pharma aim to develop an automated molecular diagnostic method that can quickly track the progress of CAR T-cell therapies after injection into the patient. This diagnostics technology will then be able to provide early warnings about side effects to physicians, improving the outcome for patients.
“Therapies such as CAR-T differ from traditional therapies because they are intended to expand in the body once administered,” Simone Marticke, Strategy Lead at Biocartis, told me. “How much they expand and how long they survive in a patient cannot always be foreseen and may have important consequences for the patient. Therefore, such dynamic treatments require monitoring tools to go along with them.”
Current diagnostics techniques are inadequate because many measure indirect markers of CAR T-cell activity, such as the levels of immune system proteins in the blood. This gives only a rough measure of the treatment, and doesn’t allow enough time to act to reduce side effects.
Unlike many current methods, Biocartis’ automated molecular diagnostics technology has the potential to directly measure the amount of CAR T-cell DNA in the blood, providing a better measure of the CAR T-cell spread and the safety of the patient.
Molecular diagnostics technology is integral to treating cancer. As well as monitoring the progress of a cancer treatment, companies are using the approach to decide which treatments to use on tumors in the first place. Companies such as SOPHiA GENETICS and Lunaphore Technologies are developing tumor diagnostics to guide physicians, for example.
According to Marticke, using the immune system in cancer immunotherapy is opening up a whole new potential for cancer diagnostics, on top of profiling the tumor.
“For immunotherapy, the tumor itself needs to be tested, but often also the immune system, which consists of many cell types, and its activity with respect to the tumor,” she said. “This creates additional questions that need to be answered using diagnostic technologies before an appropriate treatment regimen can be prescribed.”
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