The U.S. spends over $130 billion a year on direct healthcare costs related to cancer. Today, there are a multitude of drugs priced at more than $100,000 per year per patient, and yet the overall survival rate for many cancers has only improved by a couple of weeks to months. The progress is so slow that cancer will soon surpass cardiovascular disease as the number one killer in the America.
Although mainstream cancer diagnostic tests use blood or radiography to detect the progression of cancer, they fail miserably however when it comes to deciding what should come next in a patient's treatment plan. Unfortunately, heretofore, the only way of charting the next course of treatment for solid tumor cancers, such as breast, lung, and prostate, has been to physically cut out a piece of the tumor and run molecular testing on that specimen — i.e., biopsy molecular profiling. This repeated invasive testing is necessary because like HIV, cancer can be highly genetically heterogenous and tends to develop new genomic mutations under therapeutic pressure. Despite the critical need, re-biopsying beyond the point of initial diagnosis is often not performed, especially in the community oncology setting, due to difficulty, cost, and risk to patients. As a point of reference, a minimally invasive lung biopsy costs an average of $14,000 when the 19.5 percent complication rate is factored in. Furthermore, oncologists are often (and understandably) reluctant to subject already-frail patients to additional risky procedures that may prove fruitless. As a result of these considerations, patients are often placed on subsequent treatment regimens empirically, after progression of the disease.
This lack of molecular information has led to a fundamental real-time information gap in cancer that prevents patients from getting the best possible care and has slowed down the rate of progress in clinical research. Guardant Health is helping to bridge this gap through a new technology platform called Digital Sequencing, a marriage of techniques from digital communications to DNA sequencing to enable "wireless" monitoring of tumor genomics in cancer patients via blood, thereby obviating the need for re-biopsies. Further advancements in Digital Sequencing will enable recurrence detection for millions of cancer survivors and early detection for the general population - all with a simple blood test.
Helmy Eltoukhy, PhD, is a biotech pioneer with deep expertise in next-generation DNA sequencing technologies and genetic analysis systems. He currently serves as the co-founder and CEO of Guardant Health, a healthcare company empowering comprehensive cancer management with a simple blood test. He previously co-founded Avantome, the first semiconductor DNA sequencing company, which was subsequently acquired by Illumina in 2008. He received his BS, MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.