Hope in the Fight Against Cancer

This story first appeared in the Johnson & Johnson 2009 Annual Report.

“Everything happened so fast, and there wasn’t much information: ‘You have cancer, you’ll have your surgery and then radiation’—it was a generic recipe for a patient with breast cancer,” says Jesica Harrington, now 35 and a breast cancer survivor.

Jesica was pregnant with twins when she received her diagnosis in November 2008. A month later, she lost one of the babies and underwent a mastectomy before beginning four rounds of chemotherapy. Jesica simply wanted to know how her doctors would determine whether the treatment was fighting her cancer. “I told them hope and prayer was just not enough for me,” she recalls.

Because Jesica was pregnant, her oncologist couldn’t use the usual methods of imaging to get diagnostic information or details about her prognosis once beginning treatment. Jesica’s father understood his daughter’s need for information to fuel her hope of beating the cancer. On the Internet, he found out about the CellSearch® Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) test* from Veridex, LLC.

This simple blood test captures, identifies and counts circulating tumor cells in patients with certain types of metastatic cancer. When used in combination with other tests, the CellSearch® CTC test allows a doctor to detect changes in a patient’s status and provides information about the person’s prognosis, to help physicians make more informed patient care decisions.

“I asked my oncologist, if it was as easy as getting my blood drawn, to please order this test and I’d be forever grateful,” says Jesica. “When the first test came back and it was one cell—and anything less than five is a good prognosis—that gave me hope.”

Enumerating Cancer Cells
The CellSearch® System is the first diagnostic test that automates the capture and detection of CTCs, tumor cells that have detached from solid tumors and entered the patient’s blood. It assesses CTCs to determine the prognosis and overall survival of patients with metastatic breast, colorectal or prostate cancer at any time during the course of treatment.

The Cleveland Clinic ranked the technology used in the CellSearch® System as the top medical innovation for 2009, predicting it will have a significant impact on health care. And in September, the CellSearch® CTC test was honored with the first-ever Prix Galien USA Award for Best Medical Technology. The Prix Galien recognizes technical, scientific and clinical research skills necessary to develop innovative medicines and devices, and is considered the industry’s highest accolade. Candidates are evaluated on the innovative nature of their development and applicability of the technology, and on whether the discovery can be applied to future biomedical science.

Personalizing Medicine
“The future goes beyond counting cancer cells toward using the CellSearch® platform to characterize individual patients’ tumors by gathering data about protein and genetic markers,” says David Chianese, Principle Scientist, Cellular Research, Veridex, LLC. “Our progress in this area has been driven by drug development needs and oncology trials.”

The CellSearch® platform is used in a Joint Venture Convergence Project that involves Veridex, LLC and Centocor Ortho Biotech, Inc., an oncology pharmaceutical area of business. It is also used in important academic collaborations, such as with Royal Marsden Hospital in London and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The two are clinical study sites for abiraterone acetate, a late-stage, first-in-class compound for the treatment of prostate cancer, gained in the acquisition of Cougar Biotechnology, Inc. by Johnson & Johnson in July 2009.

“In our pivotal trials with abiraterone acetate, we’ve used CellSearch® as an indicator of drug effectiveness,” says Bill Hait, M.D., Ph.D., Global Therapeutic Head of Oncology & Hematology, Centocor Research & Development, Inc. “Through collaborations, we’re developing molecular characterizations of cancer cells to begin to define predictive biomarkers that may help to identify which patients will do best on the drug.”

The ability to understand quickly whether a medicine is right or most effective for a given patient is a primary objective in the pursuit of personalized medicine. “Partnering with the drug biomarkers group in the pharmaceutical organization gives us a real opportunity to potentially expand the capability of CellSearch® to predict and monitor therapeutic responses,” says Mark Carle Connelly, Ph.D., Director of Cellular Research, Veridex, LLC. “The vision is to ultimately transform the treatment of cancer.”

Jesica delivered a healthy baby boy, Gunner. She completed her cancer treatment and is in remission. But looking back, Jesica felt her individuality was lost in a cookbook approach to her cancer treatment. She says, “When I talked to my doctors, they told me ‘Everyone is different,’ and I said, ‘Exactly.’”

*The CellSearch® Circulating Tumor Cell test is not approved to demonstrate that any current line of therapy is any more or less effective than any other or no therapy. CellSearch® results and imaging results are not equivalent in assessing the transition of patients between non-progressive disease and progressive disease.

Learn more:
2009 Online Annual Report
CellSearch® Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) test
Centocor Ortho Biotech, Inc.
Veridex, LLC