Foundation Medicine’s Tumor Network Helps Doctors Find a Match

Foundation Medicine Inc. has created a “social network” for cancer tumors, using its database of genetic information to help doctors find patients with similar cancer profiles.

The biotechnology firm, which provides genomic sequencing tests for tumors, will present PatientMatch at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference this weekend in Chicago. The company says the network is the first of its kind.

Genomic profiling of tumors is becoming routine as more-targeted cancer treatments are developed. Eighty-five percent of cancer patients receive care in community hospitals, rather than big cancer institutes like Memorial Sloan Kettering or MD Anderson, according to Chief Operating Officer Steve Kafka, which means their doctors can’t easily consult other experts on difficult cases.

“With a complex patient, a physician usually brings the case to a tumor board or walks down the hall to ask a colleague for help,” Kafka said. “We’re taking that process and putting it on steroids by giving them access to the whole network of 40,000 genomic profiles in our database.”

Doctors can use the software to find patients whose tumors have similar genetic mutations and reach out to their physicians. Doctors can then choose to share their patient’s treatment plan or contact information for further follow-up. Patient anonymity will be preserved, Kafka said.

Driving Business

Providing a network for doctors may help Foundation Medicine create a loyal base of users and find new ones. Expanding its business is crucial as Foundation Medicine struggles with insurers reluctant to cover its tests, which start at $5,800.

First-quarter earnings disappointed analysts, who had expected higher test volumes, sending the shares sliding for six consecutive days. Today they slipped 1.4 percent to $35.26 at 12:17 p.m. in New York.

Doctor reorders are “critical to the continued growth of our business,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Pellini said during the earnings conference call on May 11.

Uptake of the PatientMatch software will depend on how efficient and usable it is, but “the groundwork Foundation is setting will grow over time,” said Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “I absolutely think that’s where the future is going to be.”

Scouring Data

Foundation Medicine isn’t alone in using data to enhance the practice of medicine. While the company seeks to help doctors identify the best treatment for their patients, Silicon Valley startup 23andMe Inc. is hoping to find patterns in its customers’ genetic profiles to identify new drug targets. Even traditional tech companies like IBM Corp. are creating cloud-computing platforms to allow drug companies to store and analyze patient data.

In Foundation Medicine’s database, 39 percent had a matching profile within the same institution, according to Guarav Singal, director of innovations. When compared to the entire database, 91 percent had matches.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is also creating a database that would allow doctors to see the outcomes of other patients’ cancer treatments. CancerLinQ will be based on medical records, and unlike Foundation Medicine’s system, won’t contain comprehensive genomic information on every patient. The network will be released later this year, according to ASCO.

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