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Response Genetics Triples Sales Force on Growing Demand for Lung, Colon Cancer Dxs

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Citing higher-than-expected sales of its lung and colon cancer tests, Response Genetics announced last week that it was tripling the size of its sales force to help market the products.

The company’s sales force will grow to 10 reps by the end of the month, and the marketing team will try to target major national markets beyond its existing presence in California, Response Genetics CEO Kathleen Danenberg told Pharmacogenomics Reporter this week.

“The work of oncologists is getting more complicated. Every day there are more and more drugs out there, and so, they need more tools to help them make their decisions,” Danenberg said. “Physicians seem to be really ready for these types of pharmacogenomics or diagnostic tests.”

Danenberg estimates that approximately 110 oncologists, or 1 percent of the approximately 10,000 oncologists in the US, are using genetic tests in their practices.

“More physicians are recognizing the benefit of genetic testing. So, this is what we’re attributing the growth” in our sales force to, she said. “We really get a strong feeling that they see the value in this.”

Response Genetics launched ResponseDX: Lung and ResponseDX: Colon in September 2008. Since then, more than 500 of these tests have been sold, and the company has seen a 90 percent reorder rate.

“As a result of this initial rapid adoption, Response Genetics has decided to increase its sales force, which initially focused on the California market, to begin serving most major national markets,” the company said in a statement.

The ResponseDX brand of tests predict how well patients with certain lung or colon cancers will respond to chemotherapy.

ResponseDX: Lung gauges ERCC1 gene expression with cisplatin and carboplatin-based chemotherapy; determines RRM1 gene expression with gemcitabine-based therapy; and conducts KRAS mutations analysis and EGFR amplification with gefitinib and erlotinib treatment, according to the company.

ResponseDX: Colon determines ERCC1 gene expression with platinum-based chemotherapies; gauges TS gene expression with 5-fluorouracil; and conducts KRAS mutation analysis in cetuximab and panitumumab-treated patients.

ResponseDX genetic tests are conducted at the company’s CLIA laboratory in Los Angeles, Calif., and are also available through clinical reference lab NeoGenomics Laboratories.

According to Danenberg, Response Genetics is seeing growth in demand from physicians at large and small hospitals, private practice physicians, and at academic centers. The company’s sales force now will target oncologists on a national scale.

“The private practice physicians and general practitioners essentially order just as many [tests as] an academic that would specialize in a certain tumor type,” Danenberg said.

“We even hear doctors say, ‘Gee, we didn’t know this was available,’” she added. “And that’s the point, you can’t just e-mail the doctors and expect someone to discuss it at a meeting. You really have to walk in one-on-one and educate the doctor or the group of doctors.”

In its conversations with doctors and nurses, Response Genetics reps mainly talk about published data and reimbursement regarding the tests. “The first thing the oncologists want to know is the data,” Danenberg noted, adding that the company has conducted prospective trials for its tests.

In a brochure the company distributes to its target doctors, Response Genetics highlights that its tests have been validated by prospective trials and references several studies.

Among the studies cited is “Feasibility and Efficacy of Molecular Analysis-Directed Individualized Therapy in Advanced Non Small Cell Lung Cancer” by Simon et al. published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in July 2007; the research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, Sanofi-Aventis, and Eli Lilly.

Lilly manufactures pemetrexed (Alimta), a treatment of advanced or metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer. Response Genetics’ brochure suggests that its tests are able to gauge TS gene expression to predict which patients would likely benefit from FOLFOX or Alimta.

Sanofi-Aventis manufactures Taxotere, a chemotherapeutic that targets solid tumors in breast, colon, lung and prostrate cancers, and a drug for advanced colon cancer called Eloxatin, which is a platinum-based therapy used in combination with 5-fluorouracil/leucovorin.

Although in the brochure Response Genetics lists the manufacturers of the drugs its tests gauge patient response for, the company does not specify which studies are industry-sponsored and which are independently conducted.

Recognizing the growing interest in pharmacogenomic testing and citing a need for physician education, diagnostic companies like Decode Genetics, Laboratory Corporation of America, and Genomic Health have similarly grown their sales teams in order to get the word out about their products.

However, patient advocates, such as Sue Friedman, executive director of the patient advocacy group Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, believe that sales pitches from diagnostics industry reps do not always give physicians the full story about what a test can and cannot do.

Among the patients FORCE represents, for instance, a growing number are reporting instances of receiving either too little or the wrong information about their genetic risk for developing cancer, Friedman has said [PGx Reporter 01-07-2009].

With the growth of consumer genomics firms in the past year, direct-to-consumer advertising of genetic testing is also on the rise. However, Response Genetics’ marketing efforts are focused solely on the physician.

“Our advertising is really directly to the physicians because they are the ones that actually treat the patients,” Danenberg said. “The use of these tests is really to give more information to physicians to make their choice of therapy.”

The ResponseDX tests are under $1,000 and are covered by CPT codes. Danenberg noted that the company hasn’t “had any issues with CPT codes or reimbursement.”

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