Pathologists can be paid for their role in identifying and recruiting patients for basket studies and reporting results of medical laboratory tests
pathologists who biopsy, report, and diagnosis cancer will benefit from a
better understanding of basket
studies and their application in developing cancer treatment therapies. Such
studies can lead to more documentation of the effectiveness of various therapies
for cancers with specific gene
National Library of Clinical Medicine defines basket studies as “a new sort
of clinical studies to identify patients with the same kind of mutations and
treat them with the same drug, irrespective of their specific cancer type. In
basket studies, depending on the mutation types, patients are classified into ‘baskets.’
Targeted therapies that block that mutation are then identified and assigned to
baskets where patients are treated accordingly.”
During a basket study, researchers may find that a drug’s
effectiveness at targeting “a genetic mutation at one site can also treat the
same genetic mutation in cancer in another area of the body,” noted Pharmacy
Times, which also pointed out basket studies are often starting points for
larger oncology trials about drugs.
For example, it was a basket study which found that vemurafenib (marketed as
Zelboraf), intended for treatment of V600E, a mutation of the BRAF gene, may also treat Erdheim-Chester
disease (a rare blood disorder) in patients who have the BRAF V600 gene
mutation, Pharmacy Times reported.
Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval
of the cancer drug Vitrakvi (larotrectinib), an oral TRK
inhibitor, marked the first treatment to receive a “tumor-agnostic
indication at time of initial FDA approval,” a Bayer
news release stated. The drug’s efficacy, Pharmacy Times noted, was
found in a “pivotal” basket study.
Basket Studies, a Master Protocol Trial Design
The basket study technique is an example of a master protocol trial design. The FDA defines a master protocol as “a protocol designed with multiple substudies, which may have different objectives and involves coordinated efforts to evaluate one or more investigational drugs in one or more disease subtypes within the overall trial structure. A master protocol may be used to conduct the trial(s) for exploratory purposes or to support a marketing application and can be structured to evaluate, in parallel, different drugs compared to their respective controls or to a single common control.”
Other master protocols include umbrella studies and platform
studies, according to Cancer Therapy Advisor, which noted that each
master protocol trial design has its own unique objectives:
Umbrella studies look at the effectiveness of
multiple drugs on one type of cancer;
Platform trials investigate the effectiveness of
multiple therapies on one disease on an ongoing basis; and
Basket studies focus on the effectiveness of one
therapy on patients with different cancers based on a biomarker.
Final FDA guidance on master protocols design is expected early in 2020, an FDA spokesperson told Cancer Therapy Advisor.
While master protocol studies show promise, they generally
have small sample sizes, noted researchers of a study published in the journal Trials.
And some researchers have ethical concerns about basket studies.
Nevertheless, basket studies appear to hold promise for precision medicine.
Anatomic pathologists may want to follow some of them or find a way to get
involved through identifying clinical laboratory tests and reporting the results.
A team of analysts led by McKinsey senior partner Penny
Dash, MB BS, MSc, looked at nine trends affecting hospitals in North America,
Europe, Asia, and other regions. These trends, the authors contend, will force
hospitals to adopt innovations in how they are structured and how they deliver
Here are nine challenges hospitals face that have
implications for medical laboratories:
1. Aging Patient Populations
“Patient populations are getting older, and their needs are becoming more complex,” McKinsey reports, and this is imposing higher cost burdens. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2030 approximately 20% of the US population will be 65 or older compared with about 15% in 2016.
Clinical advances are increasing the range of treatments that can be performed in outpatient settings, McKinsey reports. The authors point to multiple studies suggesting that patients can receive better outcomes when more care is delivered outside the hospital. Dark Daily has often reported on the impact of this trend, which has reduced demand for in-hospital laboratory testing while increasing opportunities for outpatient services.
4. Move Toward High-Volume Specialist Providers
Compared with general hospitals, specialized, high-volume “centers
of excellence” can deliver better and more cost-effective care in many
specialties, McKinsey suggests. As evidence, the report points to research
published over the past 12 years in specialist journals.
Some US employers are steering patients to top-ranked providers as part of their efforts to reduce healthcare costs. For example, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) pays travel costs for patients to undergo evaluation and treatment at out-of-state hospitals recognized as centers of excellence, which Dark Daily reported on in July.
UnitedHealthcare’s new preferred lab network also appears to be a nod toward this trend. As The Dark Report revealed in April, the insurer has designated seven laboratories to be part of this network. These labs will offer shorter wait times, lower costs, and higher quality of care compared with UnitedHealthcare’s larger network of legacy labs, the insurer says.
5. Impact of Clinical Advances
Better treatments and greater understanding of disease
causes have led to significantly lower mortality rates for many conditions,
McKinsey reports. But the authors add that high costs for new therapies are
forcing payers to contend with questions about whether to fund them.
As Dark Daily has often reported, new genetic therapies often require companion tests to determine whether patients can benefit from the treatments. And these also face scrutiny from payers. For example, in January 2018, Dark Daily reported that some insurers have refused to cover tests associated with larotrectinib (LOXO-101), a new cancer treatment.
6. Impact of Disruptive Digital Technologies
The McKinsey report identifies five ways in which digital
technologies are having an impact on hospitals:
Automation of manual tasks;
More patient interaction with providers;
Real-time management of resources, such as use of hospital beds;
Real-time clinical decision support to enable more consistency and timeliness of care; and
Use of telemedicine applications to enable care for patients in remote locations.
All have potential consequences for medical laboratories, as Dark Daily has reported. For example, telepathology offers opportunities for pathologists to provide remote interpretation of blood tests from a distance.
7. Workforce Challenges
Many countries are contending with shortages of physicians,
nurses, and allied health professionals, McKinsey reports. The authors add that
the situation is likely to get worse in the coming decades because much of the current
healthcare workforce consists of baby boomers.
An investigation published in JAMA in May indicated that, in the US, the number of active pathologists decreased from 15,568 to 12,839 between 2007 and 2017. In January, Dark Daily reported that clinical laboratories are also dealing with a generational shift involving medical technologists and lab managers, as experienced baby boomers who work in clinical laboratories are retiring.
8. Financial Challenges
In the United States and other countries, growth in
healthcare spending will outpace the gross domestic product, the McKinsey
report states, placing pressure on hospitals to operate more efficiently.
9. More Reliance on Quality Metrics
McKinsey cites regulations in Canada, Scandinavia, and the UK that require hospitals to publish quality measurements such as mortality, readmittance, and infection rates. These metrics are sometimes linked to pay-for-performance programs, the report states. In the United States, Medicare regularly uses quality-of-care metrics to determine reimbursement, and as Dark Daily reported in July, a new Humana program for oncology care includes measurements for medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.
The McKinsey report reveals that several trends in
healthcare are forcing healthcare leaders to adopt new strategies for success.
The report’s authors state that their “results show that contemporary
healthcare providers around the world are facing several urgent imperatives: to
strengthen clinical quality; increase the delivery of personalized,
patient-centered care; improve the patient experience; and enhance their
efficiency and productivity.”
These pressures on hospitals typically also require
appropriate responses from clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups
Clinical labs and pathology groups know how advances in targeted therapies and genomics far outpace providers’ and patients’ ability to know how best to use and pay for them.
One fascinating development on the road to precision medicine is that many new cancer drugs now in clinical trials will require a companion genetic test to identify patients with tumors that will respond to a specific therapeutic drug.
This implies more genetic testing of tumors, a prospect that challenges both the Medicare program and private health insurers because they already struggle to cope with the flood of new genetic tests and molecular diagnostic assays. However, even as this genetic testing wave swamps payers, some pharmaceutical companies have cancer drugs for rare types of cancers and these companies would like to see more genetic testing of tumors.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will find this to be precisely the dilemma facing specialty pharma company Loxo Oncology (NASDAQ:LOXO), a biopharmaceutical company located in San Francisco and Stamford, Conn.
Loxo is developing larotrectinib (LOXO-101), a “selective TRK inhibitor.” According to a Loxo press release, Larotrectinib is “a potent, oral, and selective investigational new drug in clinical development for the treatment of patients with cancers that harbor abnormalities involving the tropomyosin receptor kinases (TRK receptors).” In short, the drug is designed to “directly target TRK, and nothing else, turning off the signaling pathway that allows TRK fusion cancers to grow.”
How to Find Patients for This Cancer Drug
While a powerful, new, targeted cancer drug will be a boon to cancer therapy, it is only intended for a relatively small number of patients. Loxo estimates that between 1,500 and 5,000 cases of cancer are caused by TRK mutations in the United States each year. Conversely, according to the National Cancer Institute, the total number of new cancer diagnoses in the US in 2016 was 1,685,210.
An article in MIT Technology Review on larotrectinib notes, “To find patients, Loxo will need to convince more doctors to order comprehensive tests that screen multiple genes at once, including TRK.” And that is where things get complicated.
“These advanced genetic tests, which can cost $5,000 or more, are offered by companies like Foundation Medicine, Caris Life Sciences, and Cancer Genetics. The problem is, insurers still consider the tests ‘experimental’ and don’t routinely cover them, meaning patients are often stuck picking up the bill,” notes MIT Technology Review.
Data for the graph above comes from theNational Human Genome Research Institute. The graph illustrates the steep decline in cost for whole genome sequencing over the past 17 years. As the cost of genetic testing drops, development of targeted-drug cancer therapies increases. Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups can expect to be performing more such tests in the future. (Graphic copyright: National Human Genome Research Institute/Simple English Wiki.)
To further confuse the market, the National Cancer Institute states that “Insurance coverage of tumor DNA sequencing depends on your insurance provider and the type of cancer you have. Insurance providers typically cover a DNA sequencing test if there is sufficient evidence to support that the test is necessary to guide patient treatment. Tests without sufficient evidence to support their utility may be considered experimental and are likely not covered by insurance.”
That, however, leads to a different conundrum for drug makers such as Loxo: the majority of doctors are not keeping up with the rapid-fire pace of discovery in the realm of genetics and targeted therapies. Some genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 are familiar enough to doctors that they know how and why they are important. However, most other genes are less known, and critically, less understood by doctors who must also focus on all the other myriad aspects of patient care.
Further complicating the issue, there is an enormous lack of information on how multipanel screenings will affect individuals, public health, and the cost of healthcare in general. Several studies are underway, but they are so new it could be years before any real results become available.
Five years ago, it cost about $20,000 to sequence the whole human genome. Now the average price is $1,500, though there are more and less expensive types of genetic tests. As the cost continues to decline, however, more people will undergo the testing and scientists will learn more about how to identify the best therapy to treat cancers caused by genetic mutations.