The profits from chemotherapeutic drugs and, recently, immunotherapeutics have been sky high for the pharma companies that offer the successful ones (see: Pharma Firms Eye Big Profits in New Cancer Drugs). These drugs have proved to be highly effective because they exploit the genetic defects of the cancer cells being attacked. The FDA and insurance companies are requiring that patients being treated with the these new drugs have been tested to ensure that the drug used is appropriate and effective. Strata Oncology is offering free cancer genomic testing to 100,000 patients according to the Dark Daily (see: Strata Oncology, in Tandem with Thermo Fisher, Offers 100,000 Free Genetic Cancer Tests to Patients as Part of New Clinical Laboratory Business Model). Below are the details:
Strata Oncology (Strata), a precision medicine company based in Ann Arbor, Mich., plans to provide free genetic testing to advanced cancer patients beginning in 2017. The company raised $12-million dollars and teamed up with Thermo Fisher Scientific to complete the large-scale tumor sequencing project. Using tumor tissue, Strata’s gene test sequences DNA and RNA to identify patients with certain gene mutations. This information is used to determine which cancer medications would be best for each patient. Patients are then referred to the appropriate pharmaceutical company for drug therapy and, potentially, for customized clinical trials.....Strata’s business model has a unique twist, compared to existing clinical laboratories and genetic testing companies. Strata is working from the premise that companies which manufacture cancer drugs will pay for patient referrals. Strata will use the offer of free genetic testing to find those patients. This strategy could prove to be profitable to both Strata Oncology and the drug companies. For example, if a particular cancer drug costs $100,000, pharmaceutical companies would probably be willing to pay a lesser sum of money each time Strata refers a cancer patient to them for treatment, after one of Strata’s genetic tests identifies a patient with a genetic mutation that would respond well to one of their drugs....[P]atients with advanced cancer would receive free genetic tests with reasonable odds that those test results will enable them to receive a drug that might be effective at stopping or slowing their cancer. Based on their personalized information, patients also might be selected for clinical trials that involve therapies that may benefit their specific diseases.
Put simply, Strata provides DNA and RNA provide free genomic testing to some cancer patients and then provides their names, based on lab test results, to pharmaceutical companies and cancer hospitals, presumably for a fee. Here is a cut-and-paste from the Strata home page with information about the lab's participation in clinical trials:
Beginning in early 2017, the Strata Trial will provide no-cost tumor sequencing for 100,000 cancer patients, characterizing the mutations that caused their cancer. In addition, together with our pharma partners, we will offer a portfolio of precision medicine clinical trials that target a wide range of these mutations, with the goal of maximizing the chances that a patient matches to a trial. We plan to bring the Strata Trial to 100+ partner hospitals and cancer centers across the United States, helping to broaden access to tumor sequencing and precision medicine clinical trials. We will continually be looking to add new trials to the portfolio as new precision medicine hypotheses emerge, including biomarker-guided immuno-oncology trials.
It seems to me that the primary way that patients are referred to Strata for tumor sequencing is via physicians, presumably oncologists. I can understand why pharmaceutical companies would pay Strata for patient referrals in order to learn the identity of potential recipients of their drugs. But the patients' oncologists would still have influence over how and by whom their patients are treated. What actions could the pharmaceutical companies take independently? This is where the idea of the Strata Trial program. described above, makes sense to me. Armed with the knowledge of the results of the Strata genomic testing, the pharma companies could then contact the referring oncologist and persuade him or her to enroll the patient in one of the company's clinical trials. The Strata business model may thus be more about enrolling patients in clinical trials than the discovery of patients to be treated with its drugs.