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CollabRx Launches Personal Genomics Service to Target 'Long Tail' of Disease

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – CollabRx last week threw its hat in the personal genomics market with the launch of a new service designed to provide cancer patients with information about specific treatment options that their physicians might otherwise overlook.

In a keynote at Cambridge Healthtech Institute's Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco, CollabRx founder and chief scientist Jay Tenenbaum described the company's model as a way to address the "huge unmet medical need in the long tail of disease," referring to the large population of patients that are "not within pharma's economic target market" because they do not respond to current treatment regimens.

Tenenbaum, a melanoma survivor, said that the service, CollabRx One, grew out of his own experience with the disease, in which he found that "no one could tell me what [treatment] was best for me." The service will initially focus on cancer, but the firm hopes to expand into different disease areas in the future.

The company plans to serve as a middleman for patients and physicians seeking personalized treatment for difficult cancers. The firm first outsources a battery of genomic tests — including gene expression, SNP analysis, and copy number variation — to a CLIA-certified lab. Tenenbaum said that the firm plans to include whole-genome sequencing in the future.

Once the data from these tests is available, the company's scientists apply in-house developed bioinformatics tools to characterize the pathways at play in the patient's cancer and use that information to identify appropriate therapies from currently available pharmaceuticals as well as those in clinical trials.

The company presents these results to the patient's physician, and it is up to the doctor whether to use the findings in the patient's treatment plan. Based on the results, the physician may decide to use a particular therapy in an off-label manner, or to prescribe a "cocktail" of available drugs, or to enroll the patient in a clinical trial for a new therapy.

"We're not recommending treatments," Tenenbaum noted. Rather, "we're trying to help the oncologist move beyond trial-and-error."

In an interview following his talk, Tenenbaum told GenomeWeb Daily News that the price of the service is currently in the range of $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the tests involved. While acknowledging that the price is "not cheap" — particularly since it would not be covered by insurers — he said he is confident that advances in technology will help reduce the costs over the next few years.

In addition, he said that insurers may be willing to pay for services such as CollabRx One in the future, provided they see the economic value in tailoring therapies to patients. The company's "highest priority" over the next six months, he said, is to carry out validation studies to prove that the service can help physicians avoid giving inappropriate drugs to patients. If the firm can prove that, he said, "the benefits will be obvious for payors."

The firm is also looking to partner with disease foundations, medical institutions, and other entities that could use its infrastructure as a collaborative platform to share specimens, data, and research results. Under this "virtual biotech" model, he said, research groups can more easily select patients for clinical trials that would be more likely to respond to an investigational therapy.

Raphael Lehrer, head of personalized oncology services at CollabRx, said that the company has conducted a "handful" of pilot studies since it was founded in January 2008. While the firm was able to successfully identify a number of "new hypotheses that were not considered by the patients' oncologists," he said that in most of these pilot cases, the patients had turned to the service because they were "out of options," and their disease was too far advanced to test the alternative treatments.

Currently, he said, the company is looking to work with patients with a prognosis of up to two years in order to validate its approach.