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Industry professionals say liquid biopsies are the future of cancer diagnostics. Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) Annual Meeting has once again provided a road map of scientific advances for the treatment of people with cancer.

Returning to an in-person event this year, ASCO’s attendees witnessed a heightened focus on liquid biopsies, the noninvasive blood tests that detect multiple types of cancer, often at early stages as well as show whether or not a cancer has recurred and provide other useful information from biomarkers found in the blood.

Last month, Angle became the latest liquid biopsy company to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with its test for metastatic breast cancer known as Parsortix.

Other liquid biopsies that have been approved by FDA include Guardant360 CDx and FoundationOne Liquid CDx. Many more tests are in advanced clinical trials.

There were more than 80 liquid biopsy studies presented at this year’s ASCO conference.

“Acceptance of liquid biopsies has definitely increased because of the amount of data we now have,” Dr. Julie Gralow, the chief medical officer and executive vice president at ASCO, told Healthline.

Gralow was previously a professor of breast cancer at the University of Washington School of Medicine as well a professor in the Clinical Research Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She was also the director of Breast Medical Oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Gralow noted that one of the most significant liquid biopsy technologies at ASCO this year was circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA).

This refers to DNA that comes from cancerous cells and tumors and is found in the bloodstream.

Most DNA is inside a cell’s nucleus. As a tumor grows, cells die and are replaced by new ones. The dead cells get broken down and their contents, including DNA, are released into the bloodstream.

This ctDNA is filled with information that can be gathered and studied with a simple, noninvasive blood draw.

That information has been shown in multiple studies and in multiple cancers to be a powerful new weapon against cancer.

At ASCO 2022, liquid biopsy companies as well as many of the world’s top cancer researchers presented a variety of liquid biopsy studies for multiple types of cancer.

Scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute showed the value of liquid biopsy in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer (HR+ BC), the most common cause of breast cancer-related death.

The scientists noted that more than half of metastatic recurrences of HR+ BC happen five years or less after diagnosis.

Researchers said that detection of minimal residuals of disease via circulating tumor ctDNA can identify cancer recurrence months to years in advance and may be an important tool to guide therapy.

Natera, a company that provides liquid biopsies for breast cancer and several other types of cancer, introduced new data at ASCO from what they call “the largest circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) cohort in breast cancer.”

Natera researchers say its ability to detect metastasis early can provide a window for therapeutic intervention for people with cancer who are ctDNA positive while providing reassurance to people who consistently test negative.

“Liquid biopsies have really come of age in recent years, and they are being adopted across a wide spectrum of cancer care,” said Dr. Alexey Aleshin, Natera’s interim head of medical affairs.

The research extends beyond breast cancer.

There are now liquid biopsy trials for virtually every type of solid-tumor cancer.

For example, Mount Sinai researchers presented a study at ASCO that showed that liquid biopsy could be a better predictor than an invasive tumor biopsy procedure of whether cancer immunotherapy will be successful for a person with lung cancer.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca, the global pharmaceutical company, and GRAIL, the liquid biopsy company whose mission is to detect cancer early when it can be cured, announced at ASCO 2022 the launch of strategic collaboration.

GRAIL will develop diagnostic (CDx) liquid biopsies for use with AstraZeneca’s therapies.

“Combining GRAIL’s innovative blood-based methylation profiling platform with AstraZeneca’s leadership in oncology, we hope to accelerate the adoption of circulating tumor DNA across clinical trials and make our cancer medicines available at an earlier stage of disease when there is greater potential to transform patient outcomes, and even cure,” Susan Galbraith, executive vice president of Oncology R&D, at AstraZeneca, said in a press statement.

GRAIL officials noted that the collaboration will initially focus on “developing companion diagnostic tests to identify patients with high-risk, early-stage disease, with plans to embark on numerous studies across multiple indications over the next several years.”

BioFluidica presented its LiquidScan, a microfluidic chip that searches a blood sample for rare biomarkers such as CTCs (circulating tumor cells), cell-free DNA (cfDNA), and/or exosomes, which are particles that release naturally from a cell.

Rolf Muller, the company’s chief executive officer, noted that the technologies developed by BioFluidica can be used to determine if a person with cancer is a candidate for targeted therapy.

“At ASCO, the speed and progress of targeted therapy is breathtaking, especially for patients with HER2+ breast cancers,” Muller said. “They have phenomenal success rates through targeted treatment. Targeted therapy is only possible when you can find the target through diagnostics.”

Biofluidica’s HER2+ breast cancer study, while small, is significant because it shows that LiquidScan outperformed needle biopsy, Muller added.

“Unfortunately, current diagnostic methods based on needle biopsies are missing a sizable number of patients,” he said.

“The initial results of our breast cancer pilot study show that our method can find over 25 percent more patients that could have the benefit of targeted therapy,” he added.

Caris Life Sciences describes its latest liquid biopsy, Caris Assure, which was introduced at ASCO, as “the most powerful liquid biopsy assay ever developed.”

It analyzes DNA, RNA, and proteins and sequences 22,000 genes per test – well beyond other, smaller panel liquid biopsy offerings.

“Current liquid biopsy offerings examine smaller panels of genes, which lack the versatility for the identification of novel predictive markers and signatures that are only possible through the whole exome and whole transcriptome approach unique to Caris,” said David D. Halbert, the chairman, founder, and chief executive officer of Caris Life Sciences.

“We have created the most extensive sequencing assay available to ensure we leave no stone unturned in properly guiding treatment selection and ongoing cancer care management,” he said.