Quest Joins Memorial Sloan Kettering for Cancer Tests

Quest Diagnostics Inc., the world’s largest provider of medical testing services, will join with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to screen patients’ cancer genes and help doctors choose the best drugs.

The test will look at about 34 genes most likely to have drugs targeting mutations in them. Doctors then get a report from New York-based Memorial Sloan Kettering with information about the tumor and possible treatments and clinical trials. They plan to expand the test to 341 genes next year.

“It’s the whole idea of precision medicine -- we’ve been talking about this for 15 or 20 years,” said Jon Cohen, chief medical officer for Quest, based in Madison, New Jersey. Costs for sequencing have fallen, technology has quickened analysis and physicians are figuring out how to pair drugs with specific gene mutations, he said in a telephone interview. “All of what everybody talked about is finally coming to fruition.”

Quest’s 34-gene test will cost $2,600 to $2,800, and the broader one will cost $4,000. The test and others like it are an expanding part of cancer care. With information on a tumor’s mutations, doctors can select drugs that are targeted at those changes to get better responses to treatment. The approach also avoids giving medicines that aren’t likely to be effective. Results from the test take two weeks, Cohen said.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly relying on genetic targeting and regulators are requesting appropriate tests to support the use of drugs.

Vectibix Test

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved expanded use of Amgen Inc.’s Vectibix as an initial treatment for patients with advanced colorectal cancer, when paired with a gene test from Qiagen NV that predicts if it will be more effective on those with a mutation called KRAS, which occurs in about 40 percent of patients.

Getting a genetic diagnosis and related therapy correctly and efficiently can be critical as in certain genetic subtypes of colon cancer. “In some cases the disease is very, very aggressive and you don’t have the time to do trial and error, because the patient will progress rapidly,” said Jose Baselga, physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

With the reports, the goal is to give oncologists around the country access to the expertise at Memorial Sloan Kettering, considered one of the nation’s top cancer treatment centers. “We’re trying to be helpful,” Baselga said. “It’s the same process we’re using for our internal patients.”

Test Accessibility

Other cancer centers, such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, offer similar tumor screening. Memorial Sloan Kettering’s will have the backing of Quest, which had $7.15 billion in sales last year. The two organizations said Quest’s backing will make the tests more broadly accessible to doctors and hospitals around the country.

The genetic screening will compete with one offered by Foundation Medicine Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based diagnostics company that had an initial public offering in September 2013. The company offers two cancer genome tests that screen for as many as 405 cancer-related genes, according to its website, and provides a report with information on targeted treatments.

Quest’s Cohen said the company wanted to start with genes with known targeted drugs, rather than provide information that might not yet be usable. “Every one of the genes we’ve picked are actionable,” Cohen said.

Foundation had $29 million in sales last year, and its shares have gained 32 percent since they began offering shares to the public on Sept. 24, 2013. They closed at $23.73 on May 30.

(An earlier version of this story misstated the number of genes tested for in the second paragraph.)

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