The Importance of Companion Diagnostics in Cancer and Beyond


It’s been wonderful to watch the evolution of medicine over the course of my career. Twenty years ago, when I finished my training in gynecologic oncology (the field of medicine that specializes in cancers of the female reproductive system), the standard of cancer care was cytotoxic drugs, which are medicines that contain chemicals that are toxic to all cells, not just cancer cells. The hope of chemotherapy was simply to kill more cancer cells than normal cells.

Now, we have entered the era of personalized medicine, where the goal is to provide the right patient with the right drug at the right dose at right time based on their underlying biology. Personalized medicine is the next step forward in our quest to improve lives and cure disease.

And, the enablers of personalized medicine are companion diagnostics — tests that help doctors better predict which treatments will be most effective for individual patients. Exciting advances in genetics-based companion diagnostics to personalize patient treatment are one reason I came to Myriad after serving in a number of leadership positions at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

In my role as the vice president of medical affairs for oncology at Myriad Genetic Laboratories, I am able to couple my experience as a practicing physician with the harnessed power of genetic information and the talents of my colleagues at Myriad to produce transformative, next generation healthcare products – including companion diagnostics — that will assist patients and their physicians in making more informed decisions when diagnosing and treating disease.

Advances in genetics research and newly-developed companion diagnostic tools allow us to look inside a cancer cell to understand the genetic alterations that make it behave the way it does. More importantly, we are able to target those alterations inside the cell to individualize care by matching a patient to a specific therapy based on the biology of his or her own tumor. And that’s what patients are interested in, they want to have confidence that they’re going to respond to a particular treatment because it’s their disease, and it’s their life.

Companion diagnostics enable patients and their physicians to choose treatments that can provide the highest likelihood of success.

There are now 20 FDA-approved companion diagnostic tests for the selection of drugs to treat various diseases and conditions on a more individualized basis. And many more companion diagnostics are on the way, the result of close collaborations between companies like Myriad and biopharmaceutical companies that develop targeted therapies.

Myriad’s BRACAnalysis® CDx is the latest, becoming the first and only FDA-approved companion diagnostic test proven to effectively identify BRCA-positive patients with advanced ovarian cancer who are eligible for treatment with Lynparza® (olaparib), a breakthrough PARP inhibitor and a first-in-class drug for treating breast and ovarian cancer.

I have witnessed the hope patients are filled with when they hear that their doctors are going to select therapies tailored to their individual disease and their individual biology. They exude a hope that their outcome will be better than outcomes of the past.

The use of companion diagnostics to help physicians better treat cancer on an individualized basis is just the beginning. Companion diagnostics have the potential to change every area of healthcare from a one-size-fits-all approach to an individualized, precision-based strategy in which patients have access to the latest advances in medicine and their doctors are able to match the right drug to them and their disease. And that’s incredibly exciting for the future of healthcare.

Johnathan Lancaster, M.D., Ph.D.

Vice President, Medical Affairs for Oncology