New test under development could find single cancer cell in blood

January 3, 2011 (CNN)— Johnson and Johnson will partner with Massachusetts General Hospital to develop and market a blood test that could find a single cancer cell circulating in a person’s blood, the company said Monday.

Researchers hope the test will be used by oncologists as a diagnostic tool aimed at discovering as early as possible if a cancer has spread, as well as by researchers in coming up with new drug therapies.

Veridex, a Johnson and Johnson company, announced the partnership in a statement, saying it involves Ortho Biotech Oncology Research and Development, a unit of Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development.

“This new technology has the potential to facilitate an easy-to-administer, non-invasive blood test that would allow us to count tumor cells, and to characterize the biology of the cells,” said Robert McCormack, Veridex’s head of technology innovation and strategy. “Harnessing the information contained in these cells in an in vitro clinical setting could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding.”

Veridex launched the first commercial test using CTC, or circulating tumor cell technology, in 2004, the company said. It describes circulating tumor cells as cancer cells that have detached from a tumor and are found at very low levels in the bloodstream. Capturing and counting the number of those cells can provide information to patients and doctors about prognoses with certain types of metastatic cancers, the statement said.

“The value of capturing and counting CTCs is evolving as more research data is gathered about the utility of these markers in monitoring disease progression and potentially guiding personalized cancer therapy,” the Veridex statement said.

“The challenging goal of sorting extremely rare circulating tumor cells from blood requires continuous technological, biological and clinical innovation to fully explore the utility of these precious cells in clinical oncology,” said Mehmet Toner, director of the BioMicroElectroMechanical Systems Resource Center in Massachusetts General’s Center for Engineering in Medicine. “We have developed and continue to develop a broad range of technologies that are evolving what we know about cancer and cancer care.”

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