Illumina targets cancer diagnostics

Genetic sequencing heavyweight Illumina has partnered with three major pharmaceutical firms in a bid to develop a universal sequencing-based oncology test system. The idea is to develop sequencing diagnostics to go alongside cancer therapies being developed by AstraZeneca, Janssen Biotech and Sanofi.

Because tumours’ susceptibility to certain drugs often depends on whether they carry mutations in one or more of around 125 cancer-related genes, identifying the right patients can make treating cancers more successful, and mean the difference between success and failure in clinical trials. As a result, more and more drugs are being approved only in conjunction with a companion diagnostic test.

But most of these tests so far rely on biomarkers, or partial gene sequencing. The price of sequencing is dropping rapidly, and Illumina intends to develop tests that involve sequencing panels of whole genes, rather than searching individually for specific variants. The firm is aiming to take advantage of the fact that it currently sells the only ‘next-generation’ sequencer that is approved for clinical use to establish a dominant position in a nascent sequencing market. 

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