How liquid biopsy is transforming precision oncology

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High-quality, consistent biospecimen collection is proving integral to understanding cancer and optimizing therapy. With traditional tumor biopsies proving invasive or inaccessible, researchers are turning towards plasma biospecimens for insights.

Molecular profiling and advanced analytics have revolutionized the field of precision medicine, tailoring healthcare to patient subgroups. This is also reflected in oncology where the realization that cancer is a highly individualistic disease has made precision medicine more popular. 

The 21st century has seen an increased push to treat cancer patients with a targeted approach, as patients often react differently to treatments. By systematically deciphering the complexity of cancers, clinical experts hope to achieve successful remission and pre-empt relapses. 

To aid this, biotech companies are developing companion diagnostics and analytical tests that can monitor the disease status by methodically testing patient samples.

Adopting accessible and non-invasive testing

Traditionally, tissue biopsies from patients were used for studying cancers. However, liquid biopsies – which allow the examination of blood plasma, urine, or saliva – are less invasive and more accessible. 

With liquid biopsies, sampling over a period of time can enable continuous monitoring of the treatment status, while potentially detecting and preventing relapses. Moreover, while the analysis of tissue biopsies is often restricted to only one specific cell type, plasma sampling from liquid biopsies offers a holistic insight into the whole tumor landscape for example via circulating tumor DNA. 

Longitudinal plasma: A unique solution

Andrea Schütte, Director of the Liquid Biopsy Biobank, Indivumed, precision oncology,
Andrea Schütte, Director Liquid Biopsy Biobank, Indivumed

These advantages have led to a surge in popularity for liquid biopsy specimens and clinical data globally. “We have seen an increased demand to develop companion diagnostic tools that accompany decision-making processes. Monitoring the disease status over time is feasible using blood biopsies due to the less invasive procedure involved,” explained Andrea Schütte, Director of the Liquid Biopsy Biobank at the German oncology company Indivumed.

Five years ago, Indivumed set up a liquid biopsy plasma biobank, which focuses on collecting whole blood samples from cancer patients. The liquid biopsy biobank offers plasma samples taken up to six times over the course of the patient’s treatment. These samples are known as longitudinal plasma.

The longitudinal plasma samples can be used to extract valuable insights on changes in molecular signatures over time. The continuity of samples comes with matching clinical data points, including treatment type, medical history, and radiology data; this data can prove key in treating many cancer types, especially the ones where the mutation status alters with time.

Explaining how the biobank mirrors the molecular reality in patients, Schütte said, “Our customers get real-life patient data for the development of their tests. We include all types of cancers, patients, and therapy regimens. This is in contrast to clinical studies, where the data can be restricted as it relies solely on a selected group of patients that fulfill very specific criteria.” 

With the variety and breadth of data that such a biobank provides – spanning over 20,000 patients – even outliers are likely to be captured. This has made the Indivumed biobank a popular choice for its customers, including companion diagnostic companies, biotech and pharma firms, universities, and research institutions.

The key to biospecimen sample integrity

liquid biopsy, biospecimen collection, precision oncology

The biggest challenge in biospecimen and clinical data collection is maintaining sample integrity. “For quality consistency, we work with ISO-certified protocols and train our staff thoroughly,” Schütte explained. 

“Our strict plasma protocol allows a maximum of three days between blood draw and plasma preparation. This standard is stricter than the seven days that the manufacturer of our blood collection tubes recommends. We also undertake stringent documentation to meet good clinical practice standards. This allows us to deliver on high quality, which impacts the research of our customers greatly.”

Realizing the future of precision oncology

The Indivumed team ensures consistency by centralizing plasma preparation and downstream processes in-house. Through its expanding global oncology network, the Indivumed team can verify that biospecimen collection time-points remain representative of real-life therapy regimens.

The ultimate goal for Indivumed is to optimize individualized therapies and to make life easier for patients. Data from studies on Indivumed’s longitudinal plasma can aid clinicians in methodically making informed decisions, such as enabling the early onset of treatment or even altering therapies when necessary. By standardizing liquid biopsy analyses instead of using invasive methods, the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of cancers can be greatly improved. 

Working closely with leading oncologists, Indivumed ensures the quality and integrity of their liquid biopsy biobank. To learn more about Indivumed’s liquid biopsy biobank and how it can contribute to your precision oncology research, visit the company’s website.

Images via Indivumed

This article was originally published in March 2021. 

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