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'Trickling Toward Precision Medicine'

Strata Oncology has said it will give free genetic testing to 100,000 cancer patients, as GenomeWeb has reported.

By doing this, Strata hopes to uncover patients with certain genetic glitches and guide them toward drug companies. In this way, Technology Review's Antonio Regalado says Strata plans to get around the "cancer Catch-22" — insurance companies mostly don't cover DNA sequencing tests because they are experimental, but without data drug companies can't test the personalized drugs that would then show whether DNA testing is beneficial.

"The purpose of the company is to dramatically accelerate enrollment into clinical trials by removing sequencing as a barrier," Dan Rhodes, the CEO of Strata and a former Thermo Fisher executive, tells Tech Review.

Regalado notes that Strata developed out of the National Cancer Institute-MATCH trial, which has been examining patients' tumors for genetic markers to guide treatment. While there has been great interest in the trial, GenomeWeb reported early this year that not too many matches have been made. According to Regalado, GlaxoSmithKline has said that it had to test 11,000 patients to find the 23 it needed to study a targeted lung cancer drug.

"We are sort of trickling toward precision medicine. Sequencing isn't reimbursed because it's not proven clinically, but it's hard to prove without a big population of sequenced patients," Rhodes tells Tech Review.