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New Drugs, But What About the Test?

New cancer medications are often targeted to patients' particular tumor types, but for patients to be able to take advantage of these new therapies, they also need access to genetic testing, Technology Review writes. And it adds that insurance companies often do not cover genetic testing.

The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved Merck's PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to treat cancers based only on the tumors' genetic profiles and not their tissues of origin. Similarly, Loxo Oncology announced the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting that it would be seeking approval soon for larotrectinib to treat TRK fusion-positive tumors. Loxo CEO Joshua Bilenker said that their and other work has validated such tissue-agnostic, biomarker-guided treatment approaches, as GenomeWeb reports.

Tech Review points out, though, that patients have to be screened for those biomarkers and many insurance companies consider genetic tests experimental and don't cover their high cost.

"These drugs appear to be very effective for certain types of mutations, but sometimes it's hard to convince oncologists to test for a mutation that might only occur in 1 percent of their patients," Robert Doebele from Colorado State University tells Tech Review. "My sense is that they're worried about their patients getting a $5,000 bill."