The OBR Blog

June 27, 2011 - 10:06 am Posted in Featured comments2 Comments

Continuing the tradition of providing you with timely market feedback from ASCO 2011, OBR and MDoutlook are pleased to share results from MDoutlook’s 4th Annual post-ASCO survey fielded among its global network of 52,000 cancer physicians.

The first Quick-Poll published in the OBR blog will cover one of the hottest topics at ASCO – melanoma. Following these results and analysis we’ll publish on the other tumor types listed below.


Quick Poll Methodology and Respondents’ Geographic Distribution

  • 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting was held in Chicago, IL. June 3-7, 2011
  • Melanoma Quick Poll was launched by email on the morning of Friday, June 10, 2011
  • 4th in a series of 4 ASCO Quick Polls: Other Quick-Polls include Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), GU (prostate and renal) cancers, GI cancers, and Melanoma
  • Sent to global distribution of Medical Oncologists and clinicians with a clinical interest in Melanoma
  • Data taken on June 15th with 201 complete responses
  • ~1/2 of responses from USA
  • Responses received from 23 different countries in total
  • No financial incentives provided for participation

Survey Results:

1) Melanoma Treaters Plan to Treat a Majority of Their  V600E BRAF+ Melanoma Patients with Vemurafenib


  • US melanoma treaters have slightly higher anticipated usage of vemurafenib
  • A majority will place 81-100% of their stage III and stage IV melanoma patients on vemurafenib
  • Ex-US melanoma treaters more likely to place stage IV melanoma patients on vemurafenib than stage III unresectable melanoma patients
  • ~50% will place 81-100% of their stage IV melanoma patients as opposed to 33% for their stage III patients

2) Physicians Plan Selective Usage of Ipilimumab in Their Advanced and Metastatic Melanoma Patients with Ipilimumab


  • Largest proportion of US melanoma treaters will use ipilimumab for 41-60% of their unresectable stage III and stage IV melanoma patients
  • Largest proportion of Ex-US melanoma treaters will use ipilimumab for 21-40% of their unresectable stage III and stage IV melanoma patients
  • Less than 5% of Ex-US melanoma treaters will not use ipilimumab vs. ~10% of US melanoma treaters

3) Melanoma Treaters Rate Clinical Importance of Clinical Trial of GSK212 (MEK inhibitor) and GSK436 (BRAF) as Highly Important


  • Overall, melanoma treaters view clinical trial testing GSK212 and GSK436 in combination as very high
  • The majority of clinicians rate the clinical importance as high or very high
    • Less than 5% rated clinical importance as low

4) Majority of Melanoma Patients Will Be Screened for V600E BRAF Mutation in the Next Year


  • The majority of US and Ex-US melanoma patients will be screened for the V600E BRAF mutation in the upcoming year
    • ~80% of US patients and 65% of Ex-US patients
  • Less than 50% of patients were screened in the previous year
  • 98% increase in the US and 120% increase in Ex-US

Overall Conclusions

  • Melanoma treaters plan to use vemurafenib in over 50% of their V600E BRAF+ melanoma patients
  • Clinicians plan to use ipilimumab in ~50% of their advanced and metastatic melanoma patients
  • Very little difference in usage between unresectable stage III and stage IV melanoma patients
  • Respondents view the clinical trial testing GSK212 and GSK436 in combination as having very high in clinical importance
  • Melanoma treaters will double the number of patients screened for V600E BRAF mutation in the next year

Final Thoughts:

Quick polls are a fast way of measuring expected acceptance of clinical data post major medical meetings, and perhaps can be used to make some assumptions about adoption amongst providers.  In today’s information hungry environment, the speed at which these polls can be conducted and analyzed can be advantageous for market planning and “pressure testing” acceptance of data amongst key stakeholders.

Submitted by Stefan Terwindt, EVP, The Arcas Group

June 19, 2011 - 09:06 pm Posted in Featured comments0 Comments

More rigor needed in molecular test development and validation

It is clear that molecular diagnostics will play an increasingly important role in the treatment of patients due to the information we are learning from genomic analysis and the continued introduction of targeted therapies. Despite the potential and importance of molecular testing there are risks to the utilization of these tests, especially as the number of tests grows. Critics of the current state of molecular testing describe it as chaotic and there is significant variation in the rigor of development, validation and implementation of tests into laboratories.

Test claims are made and supported in some cases and not supported in other cases. In addition, few controls are in place to monitor and regulate changes in the claims and performance of products once on the market. For example, companies can change test specifications and reporting methods, without providing new validation studies to support those changes.

This lack of consistency and rigor could risk public health. The field needs clearly articulated standards for the demonstration of analytical and clinical validity and clinical utility.

CLIA and CAP primarily focus on evaluation of laboratory procedures

Currently, laboratories in the United States are evaluated and certified under the Clinical Laboratories Improvement Act (CLIA) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP). These organizations are primarily focused on the quality of the laboratory’s procedures, methods, quality control, proficiency and personnel qualifications and training, all of which are essential to demonstrate that a lab can run tests properly and deliver consistent, reliable results.

However, these certification processes are not focused on nor adequately equipped to evaluate the development, validation and performance claims of many newly developed complex molecular diagnostic tests.

FDA is best equipped to standardize and regulate complex molecular diagnostic tests

Currently the Food and Drug Administration has the most expertise for evaluation of the development, validation and associated performance claims of complex diagnostic tests. However, currently, new diagnostic tests can be launched as Laboratory Developed Tests without FDA review and clearance.

Successful completion of the FDA regulatory clearance process is a reliable indication that a test has been developed in a controlled way and is rigorously validated. For these reasons, Pathwork Diagnostics secured FDA clearance for the Pathwork® Tissue of Origin Test — a molecular test that uses a patient tumor’s RNA expression profile to assist in identifying its origin.

Per the FDA’s requirements, Pathwork followed design control procedures for development of the test, including determination of product specifications prior to product development, careful analysis of hazards and how to mitigate them, designated testing stages and confirmation of successful completion at each step of development.

Pathwork believes that the field would benefit from a transition to the requirement that all new molecular tests require FDA clearance before commercial launch. To be implemented, it would require increased FDA resources, clear guidance from the FDA as to standards for clearance and list of tests exempt from clearance due to low complexity, small patient numbers or minimal risk to public health.

More FDA clarity is needed re standards

Unfortunately, the FDA is still vague regarding what validation and performance standards it expects for each new type of molecular test. In 2007, the FDA issued its draft guidelines, “Guidance on In Vitro Diagnostic Multivariate Index Assays (IVDMIAs),” but these have not gone into effect and there continues to be discussion and debate regarding the appropriate standards.

The FDA faces substantial challenges in regulating molecular diagnostics, including the rapid pace of introduction of new technologies, the multiplicity of different applications and the varying level of unmet medical need and public health risk. Some molecular diagnostics have highly complex informatics approaches, involving computer-based algorithms in contrast to reporting of data for single analytes. These issues, plus the FDA’s limited resources, have made it difficult for the agency to create molecular diagnostics standards.

Standards should incorporate clinical utility

Data supporting clinical utility needs to be different from what is needed for drugs, but currently there are no accepted standards for what clinical utility data should be required for a particular molecular diagnostic test or class of tests.

We believe the standard for diagnostics should vary with the intended use of the test. For example, the standard for a test that predicts response to therapy should be different than a test that aids in diagnosis. In the former, response to the drug is a fundamental aspect of the test’s utility. However, for a diagnostic aid, demonstration that the test does in fact aid in diagnosis and results in a change in physician treatment decisions is appropriate evidence for clinical utility.

Pathwork has proactively collected and analyzed clinical utility data regarding the use of the Tissue of Origin Test. For example, a clinical utility study of the Tissue of Origin Test presented at the ASCO 2011 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium showed that after receiving the test results for patients with difficult-to-diagnose primary cancers, oncologists’ determination of the primary diagnosis was changed in the majority of patients and cancer-specific management changed for two-thirds of the patients.1

Lack of payer standards an obstacle

Payers essentially constitute a second tier of regulation and a barrier to the commercial success of new molecular diagnostics. Unfortunately, each payer individually decides what standards should be applied to diagnostic tests, resulting in significant inefficiency and wildly different standards for analytical and clinical validity, clinical utility and cost effectiveness.

The lack of consistent payer standards creates great uncertainty for any company bringing out a new test. It goes without saying that a rational and uniform set of payer standards would greatly benefit the development and commercialization of diagnostics, but that is unlikely to occur until the regulatory bodies and health insurance industry can join together to better articulate them.

Molecular diagnostics companies can help create standards

While the molecular diagnostics industry waits for the regulators and advisory bodies to catch up, it remains an obligation of each diagnostics company to make sure that any test it introduces is rigorously designed and validated and that these steps are all well-documented. The test should be implemented in a laboratory environment that is fully CLIA- and CAP-compliant.  Very importantly, companies should be transparent about exactly what claims can be made regarding the performance of a new test and provide the data that backs up any claims.

Validation standards should be appropriate to the type of test and should utilize studies that are appropriately powered and have tight confidence intervals. For the Tissue of Origin Test, which covers 15 different tumor tissues representing 58 subtypes, we performed extensive validation, which included the analysis of 25 samples per tissue type, for a total of 462 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumor specimens in our study published in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.2

Most of all, we as molecular diagnostics test providers need to be transparent about what they have done and how it has been done it at every step of product design, development, validation, regulatory clearance and commercialization.


1Hornberger et al. Effect of a gene expression-based tissue of origin test’s impact on patient management for difficult-to-diagnose primary cancers. ASCO Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium; January 22, 2011; San Francisco, CA. Poster presentation.

2Pillai et al. Validation and reproducibility of a microarray-based gene expression test for tumor identification in FFPE specimens. J Mol Diagn. 2011;13:48-56.

By W. David Henner, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Pathwork Diagnostics, Inc.

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