NEW YORK – NanoString said this week that it is continuing to see robust enthusiasm for its recently unveiled digital spatial profiling instrument GeoMx, with early users publishing new data that demonstrate potential utility cases for the platform in areas like immuno-oncology.
Specifically, President and CEO Brad Gray said this week that NanoString is seeing more and more efforts from its technology access program (TAP) resulting in high-impact peer-reviewed publications. Under the TAP, which launched more than a year ago, interested users have been able to conduct experiments with GeoMx without having an actual instrument in hand by partnering with NanoString.
In a call discussing the firm's second quarter earnings on Wednesday, Gray said that the TAP is revealing itself to be an important mechanism for attracting customers, as evidenced by an "increasing percentage of new genomic genomics instrument orders that have resulted from our TAP interactions."
According to Gray, NanoString completed, with its TAP customers, more than 25 projects during the second quarter of this year, resulting in more than $1 million in revenue. On top of that, the company has now received orders for more than 30 new projects, including several experiments proposed by biopharma companies and academic medical centers.
"We now carry a backlog of more than 50 projects valued at more than $2 million and we have recently expanded our TAP service staffing and added weekend shifts to keep pace with this growing demand," he said during the call.
Paralleling this accelerated demand for early access, Gray added, is a rapid generation of user data that is now entering the peer-reviewed literature. "Our collective TAP experience now includes approximately 125 projects that have been completed for about 85 unique customers. These efforts have [resulted in] seven peer-reviewed publications so far and we are tracking another dozen papers that have been submitted," he said.
Two of the most recent studies of the platform applied GeoMx to questions in immuno-oncology, something Gray said makes up a majority of the "initial wave" of spatial profiling research and publications. In one paper in Clinical Cancer Research this June, David Rimm and colleagues at Yale University Medical School used GeoMx to identify biomarkers that are predictive of outcomes for patients receiving immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma.
The study updated results that Rimm has previously presented at scientific meetings from his efforts to improve current molecular tools for immunotherapy prediction by precisely locating certain biomarker signals in individual cell populations.
In their latest study, Rimm and colleagues used NanoString's GeoMx DSP to test pretreatment biopsies of patients with melanoma who received checkpoint inhibitors. They were able to correlate patients' known clinical outcomes with the expression of 44 proteins in three independent spatially resolved compartments: macrophages, leukocytes, and melanocytes.
Among their findings, the authors wrote that PD-L1 expression — a commonly employed biomarker to predict immunotherapy drug response — was only strongly predictive of objective response, progression-free survival and overall survival if it was present in patients' macrophage compartment. Expression in tumor cells themselves didn't rise to the same bar.
"This and future work may accelerate the development of novel biomarkers in a field that urgently needs better mechanisms for patient selection," Rimm said in a statement.
Another study appeared last week in Nature Medicine. Investigators, led by Vanderbilt University Medical Center professor Justin Balko, used GeoMx to characterize immune infiltrates in the brain of a patient who passed away after suffering encephalitis during immunotherapy treatment for metastatic melanoma.
"By using digital spatial profiling to understand the mechanism of this neurotoxicity, clinicians may be able to develop a test to help inform patient selection," Gray said during NanoString's call this week.
Specifically, researchers in the study were able to use GeoMx see the presence of activated, Esptein Barr virus-associated T cells in the inflamed region of the case-study patient's brain, and to back the results up with studies of two other cases. DSP profiling of non-inflamed regions from the same patient, as well as samples from patients with other forms of encephalitis, did not show evidence of activated T cells.
"The GeoMx platform enabled high-plex characterization that would not have been possible on other platforms," Balko said in a statement last week regarding the findings.
Finally, Gray also discussed NanoString's newly announced collaboration with Mayo Clinic Laboratories: a joint development agreement under which the two organizations will perform a cross-site study using GeoMx DSP to investigate the immune architecture of breast tumor samples.
"While the path to developing clinical tests for GeoMx will take time, we're honored to partner with [a group that is] world renowned for developing such tests," Gray said. Though it would be speculative to project whether and when a clinical test might emerge from the partnership, the lab's willingness to be an early adopter of the technology is heartening, he added.
If NanoString is able to position GeoMx in the clinic in the future, Gray estimated that current tools like immunohistochemistry and RNA in situ hybridization represent a $3 billion market overall in which GeoMx could find use cases.
"It will take us some time before we can get to the clinic. But in terms of a long-term lifecycle for the GeoMx platform and spatial profiling in general, we think the clinic is really exciting and our collaboration with Mayo can only help us come up that curve faster," he said.