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On-Q-ity Strikes Deal With LabCorp To Help Researchers Spot Rare Tumor Cells

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circulating tumor cells with a dual mechanism that looks at both their size and the affinity with which they bind to certain antibodies.

The deal with LabCorp isn’t actually much of a surprise—Aspinall is no stranger to the folks there. She is the former president of Genzyme Genetics, the diagnostics unit of Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) that LabCorp agreed to acquire in September for $925 million. Andy Conrad, the chief scientific officer of LabCorp has been “very aggressive” in making sure LabCorp stays on the cutting edge of new technology, Aspinall says. She says she has confidence that LabCorp will perform well with Genzyme Genetics—“it’s my baby,” she says—just like it will with On-Q-ity.

If the circulating tumor cell technology catches on, it will be part of what sounds like a dizzying array of technologies for diagnosing and monitoring cancer. Researchers will still use ever-more powerful images of tumors from CT and MRI, combined with the circulating tumor cell information from the blood, plus more DNA analysis of tumors as gene sequencing gets continually faster and cheaper. I asked Aspinall whether all this information might lead to false alarms, and over-reactive treatment regimens, especially with a slow-growing malignancy like, say, prostate cancer, which is thought to linger for years in many men without causing much harm. The objection certainly isn’t new. That’s partly why Aspinall says On-Q-ity is positioning its technology in cancer trials, among existing cancer patients, instead of pitching it as a broad cancer screening tool like the PSA test is for prostate cancer.

“My career has been about asking what is the greatest need for patients? The greatest need for patients today is in increasing the efficacy of treatments available now,” Aspinall says. Cancer drug regimens only work about one-fourth of the time, and that’s unacceptable, she says. “We’ve made such progress with new drugs, we need to use diagnostics to improve the information the physician has if we want to improve how we use those drugs.”

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