Veracyte Finds a Way to Make a Buck Cutting Waste in Thyroid Cancer Treatment

11/18/11Follow @xconomy

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for these factors from the outset. It set up an internal laboratory, equipped with Affymetrix gene expression instruments. These tools are made to determine the extent to which certain genes are active or inactive in a biological sample. Since there are about eight to 10 different molecular subtypes of thyroid cancer on the continuum between benign and malignant, Veracyte also had to develop algorithms to distinguish between those subtypes. And after much experimentation, Veracyte found 142 genes that are thought to play a role in whether a thyroid cancer is benign or malignant.

Once it had worked out some of the basic science, the question turned to the business model. The company isn’t seeking to replace pathology analysis, but rather, to add some more certainty to what pathologists are doing. So Veracyte developed a kit which it sells to the thyroid specialists who capture some of that precious sample. Some of the sample goes in a kit for a pathology lab partner of Veracyte, and some is saved for the Veracyte gene expression analysis. If the pathology test is inconclusive, then the separate sample will go in to Veracyte for further testing.

Since this test is still new, it’s impossible to say for sure what kind of impact it will make on thyroid cancer diagnosis, treatment, and cost-effectiveness in real-world use. But Veracyte’s test has been shown to rule out thyroid cancer malignancies with 95 percent certainty in samples that were previously deemed inconclusive, according to data presented in 2010 at the International Thyroid Congress. A year later, an economic impact model developed by Johns Hopkins University suggested the Veracyte test could result in a 74 percent reduction in surgeries to get rid of benign thyroid glands—essentially eliminating 50,000 unnecessary procedures per year.

Over 5 years, the average cost estimates for the current style of thyroid treatment were $12,172 per patient, and $10,719 when the Veracyte gene expression test is factored in, according to the Hopkins researchers. The Veracyte test also improved quality of life, presumably because people prefer not to have a surgical procedure leave a mark on their necks.

Paul Ladenson, a professor of endocrinology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who authored the analysis in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said Veracyte’s ability to remain cost-effective will depend in the future on a number of factors, including the price of the test, and the probability of patients getting surgeries after factoring in the new information. But he said he has started to incorporate the Veracyte test into his own clinical practice as of this month.

Veracyte has grown to have more than 50 employees, Anderson says. So far, she says, “many of the payers are reimbursing us,” in full, and that all the major insurers are reimbursing Veracyte to at least some extent, she says, without being more specific. About 100 physicians had used the test as of mid-October, she says.

The adoption of the test has been quick enough that Veracyte is already starting to look ahead at expansion to a second type of test for a pulmonary disease, Anderson says. The company isn’t profitable yet, and Anderson says it will be “a while” before that happens. But for the first year of a product introduction, it’s happy to be where it is.

“We are very encouraged with the early uptake,” Anderson says. “Driving adoption of a test that changes patient care is not easy. It requires a lot of education of the physicians, on clinical use, and the science behind the test. We have made a lot of effort so that physicians are knowledgeable and comfortable with it.”

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  • Wilma Ariza

    The “fact” that thyroid cancer rarely kills is a misleading statistic. For those of us who love and care for a thyroid cancer patient or who are part of the thyroid cancer patient and survivor community one death is one death too many. It is always disheartening and insulting when the healthcare industry, pharmaceutical companies and the media imply thyroid cancer is the “best” cancer to have: cancer is cancer! The emotional, psychological and financial burden on patients and families is devastating -for the growing number of young thyroid cancer patients and survivors who are statistically unemployed, underemployed (i.e. uninsured and/or underinsured) the long term healthcare needs often lead to bankruptcy. Better testing for us is not about the possibility of saving dollars from unnecessary testing but about preserving quality of life. My daughter was misdiagnosed for over 6 years while a malignacy grew in her thyroid between the ages of 14 to 19 — every test was inconclusive and no action taken by the time she had surgery due to difficulty swallowing and breathing 80% of her thyroid was malignant and the thyroid cancer had spread to the lymphatic system.

  • Evelyn Gross
  • Luke Timmerman

    Evelyn—I’m not trying to be insensitive here. Of course, if you know one person who has died from a disease it means a whole lot more than some statistic. All I’m saying here is a simple point. Sometimes cancers can essentially be the equivalent of a death sentence—like with pancreatic cancer. Sometimes people have much better chances with cancer, like in the case of thyroid cancer or most forms of skin cancer. The fact is that most people who get diagnosed with thyroid cancer don’t die from it.

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