Philip Beer, Chief Scientific Officer at Step Pharma, who is also the Chair of the Genomics Working Group of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA), provides his perspectives on the recently published report titled “Leveraging partnerships to realise the UK’s potential in genomics” which focuses on the UK genomics landscape and patient access to genomic testing. Philip details the reasons he got involved in BIVDA’s Genomics Working Group and the difference genomic testing can make in cancer treatment.
Genetic testing to identify DNA changes in cancer samples has the potential to match the right patient with the right drug at the right time, thus improving outcomes and making a significant difference to the lives of those living with cancer. The findings of this report highlight ways forward to improve access to genomic medicines for the benefits of patients.
Why are you involved with the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association and what is your role there?
I have a longstanding interest in the use of biomarkers, genomics in particular, as a means to power oncology drug development. Biomarker profiling is the process of analysing biological samples, including cancer DNA, to better understand how patients are likely to respond to different treatments. An optimal approach is to embed comprehensive biomarker profiling into routine clinical care pathways. The NHS has articulated an ambitious vision to do this, but we still have some work to do to make this a reality.
I got involved with BIVDA to find out how the organisation engaged emerging and existing technologies for genomic testing, as many of the barriers to implementation relate to technological pathways and processes. This led to my taking up the Chair of the newly convened Genomics Working Group. The report that was just published, in collaboration with Charles River Associates, is the first fruits of the labour of this working group.
How can biomarkers be utilised in the process of developing novel cancer treatments at Step Pharma and the industry as a whole?
New cancer drugs that enter clinical development with a selection biomarker are far more likely to succeed. This reflects a better understanding of both the mechanism of action of the drug and the selection of the right cancer types to target. The majority of cancer types are not single entities. What we call colorectal cancer, for example, is a complex mixture of different disease types. By breaking down a complex disease into smaller, molecularly defined entities, we can increase success rates for the therapeutic targeting of specific pathways. At Step Pharma we have plans for biomarker selected studies in solid tumour patients that we believe will have increased sensitivity to inhibition of CTPS1.
What is your hope for the future regarding the role of biomarkers in cancer treatment?
Embedding comprehensive biomarker profiling into routine clinical practice has the potential to accelerate oncology drug development. In an ideal world, all patients would have access to biomarker profiling at the time of diagnosis with advanced cancer. Genomic and clinical outcome data from all patients could then be collated and made available to industry and academic researchers. Large, high quality clinico-genomic datasets have the potential to power all stages of drug development, from target discovery to patient selection.