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CollabRx Debuts Cancer Genomics Service to Distinguish Itself from DTC Genomics Firms


CollabRx said it plans to educate patients about its newly launched predictive cancer-genotyping service and link researchers through a web-based portal, but the company will not follow the direct-to-consumer model of existing personal-genomics companies.

In a keynote at Cambridge Healthtech Institute's Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco last month, CollabRx founder and chief scientist Jay Tenenbaum unveiled the new service, called CollabRx One, and said its aim is to address the needs of patients who are "not within pharma's economic target market" because they do not respond to current treatment regimens.

As part of CollabRx One, the company's scientists will look at 15,000 genes and use a web-based research platform to determine which cancer drugs, among 5,000 approved drugs and investigational compounds, patients are likely to respond to based on their genetic characteristics.

CollabRx's web-based platform connect scientists with a global network of research labs, clinicians, and contract research organizations, through which scientists are able to access the "latest technologies, services, and scientific information in the quest for the best treatment options."

With the launch of CollabRx One, CollabRx hopes to advance the "discovery of new therapies by aggregating the learning from every patient."

However, while the company uses a web-based system to connect researchers with research data, CollabRx One is unlike other personal genomics firms that use a web-based interface to recruit customers, according to the company.

"While the patient is the 'end consumer' and usually the one who pays, the patient's physician plays a central role in the CollabRx One process: the physician controls the decisions on whether to act on hypotheses, and with what level of further validation," Tenenbaum told Pharmacogenomics Reporter last week via e-mail.

"If our first contact is with the patient, we aim to involve their physician as early as possible in the process to ensure that they are on board with our approach," he added. "While we will try to create awareness of the option that CollabRx One provides both to patients and to physicians, our model is not akin to other personal genomics firms that are purely patient-centric."

Comparatively, web-based personal genomics firms such as 23andMe, Navigenics, and Decode's DecodeMe peddle their services directly to the consumer, but employ doctors and geneticists to advise customers and answer questions.

Although these companies claim that the genetic risk data gleaned from their services should not be used to make medical decisions, Navigenics recently began marketing to doctors a version of its service that can be incorporated into patients' annual medical exams [see PGx Reporter 02-04-2009]. Health-care stakeholders have been enmeshed in an ongoing debate about the clinical utility of information garnered from personal genomics services.

Whether proven clinically useful or not, CollabRx's service aims to further inform medical decisions by providing the physician and patient a "hypothesis" for multiple treatment options that need to be further validated.

"Diagnostic tests are designed to choose among a small number of alternatives," Tenenbaum said. "CollabRx One is open-ended: We search for therapies among any approved (or accessible investigational) drugs based on an exhaustive look at the mechanisms responsible for the cancer.

"CollabRx One is not a diagnostic test into which a patient can fall into, say, one of five results," he added. "Rather, it is an information service that helps characterize the biology of the tumor with as many variations as it may have, and synthesizes it to provide actionable therapeutic hypotheses, which may be validatable by traditional diagnostic approaches."

CollabRx will employ various techniques to assess patients' tumors, including gene expression SNP analysis and copy-number variation testing through two external CLIA-certified laboratories: Expression Analysis and the University of Southern California's Core Laboratories.

The company then uses proprietary bioinformatics and systems biology techniques to link the specific cancer to marketed and investigational drugs.

Prior to its official launch, CollabRx One was piloted with a select group of physicians and patients over the past year. While initially CollabRx's service will focus on cancer, the firm hopes to expand into different disease areas in the future.

The current price of the CollabRx service will range between $50,000 and $100,000, depending on the tests involved. Tenenbaum acknowledged that without insurers on board, customers will shoulder the brunt of this cost at least initially.

"Clearly, adoption will be slower than if our service was free, the economy was roaring, and/or insurance companies paid for it," Tenenbaum said.

"As with any new technology, we expect early adopters to precede larger segments of the market," he added. "Over time, the cost of the current service should decrease dramatically through a combination of automation, new technology, economies of scale, and learning curve (i.e., using the knowledge gained from CollabRx One studies to discover and validate new diagnostics and therapeutics.)"


Separately, CollabRx announced the initiation of the Treat1000 project, a joint effort between CollabRx and Alacris Pharmaceuticals designed to add full-genome sequencing to the CollabRx One offering.

A key goal of the Treat1000 project "is understanding how to use the additional information provided by tumor sequencing in CollabRx One to improve our ability to treat patients," Tenenbaum said.

CollabRx will work with George Church's Personal Genome Project to recruit the 1,000 patients. Church's project aims to recruit 100,000 people willing make public on the web their genomic data and other personal information.

Treat1000 is an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and will be funded by donations and grants.

According to Tenenbaum, the project provides partner Alacris an opportunity to validate their next-generation technologies on real patients.

"Technologies that pan out will be integrated into the CollabRx One service," Tenenbaum added.