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‘India is our jumping off point in Asia’

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Over 370,000 patients in India develop solid tumour based cancers annually, that require comprehensive genomic profiling. Cancer Genetics India launched a solid tumour Hotspot panel based on Next generation sequencing for its biopharma and clinical customers throughout Asia a few months ago. Shalini Gupta finds out more about the company’s plans in an interview with Panna Sharma, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Genetics Inc

How big is the DNA-based diagnostic market size globally and that in India? How much share do you have currently and how much are you targeting in the coming few years in India?

Panna Sharma

To discuss the diagnostics market, we really have to focus on the portion of the market that is relevant to our company. The global diagnostics market is worth $17.5 billion, most of which is dedicated to infectious diseases. Cancer is approximately 30 per cent of that number and is fragmented between oncology, equipment manufacturers, and several other areas. We are expecting to capture 10 per cent of that 30 per cent cancer number over the next five to seven years through organic growth and acquisitions.

Do you have presence in other Asian markets too? If yes, which ones? How much does India and these Asian markets contribute to your revenues? Have any particular tests been launched for these markets?

Cancer Genetics International and CG India were established with the objective of offering services to a global community and we are doing exactly that. Our clients, our partners and our services are global. We have operations in India and China, but the business models for each are different. The India operation is focused on the local market and our goal is to expand this operation significantly over the next 6-12 months. India is our jumping off point in Asia. We also have an office in Shanghai which services the China-based clinical trials of our US-based biotech and pharma customers. We plan to expand our China operation where we are actively looking for partners.

What percentage of your current customers are diagnostic labs, doctors, hospitals, pharma companies? Do you see this ratio changing in the future? Why? What kind of collaborations are you exploring with biopharma and research companies going ahead?

We generally don’t report revenue and percentages in India, but last year 44 per cent of our global revenue came from the clinical business, and 56 per cent from biopharma. This year we expect clinical to contribute 35 per cent and biopharma 65 per cent. In India, we continue to seek new collaborations that will allow us to advance and further customise the products we are offering in this market. Collaborations also allow us to access new innovations. One example of these types of collaborations is our partnership with Kamineni Hospital in the cervical cancer testing space. We are also actively seeking partners for our NGS panel for solid tumours.

Why is the DNA-based diagnostic landscape in India expanding? What trends do you see?

The degree of interest from clinicians, researchers and patients in India will allow genomic medicine to take the main stage in this market and we are excited to be a part of the democratisation of personalised medicine. One of the biggest trends is the change in the patient’s role in the clinical practice globally. There are a few trends that we’re seeing in the marketplace. Not only are guidelines changing that are affecting researchers and clinicians, but patients are also more aware. They have access to genomic information and want more sophisticated healthcare tools. While both of these things are happening, costs are also coming down rapidly. These three elements are helping the advancement of genomic medicine.

How is the NGS technology panel better than the earlier methods in terms of clinical outcomes? What cost savings does it provide over other regular tests? How would you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

NGS is better because its increased sensitivities result in more comprehensive genomic information being captured. NGS eliminates any clinical guess work and allows people to receive treatment earlier. Additionally, fewer samples are necessary, which cuts down on medical costs and time requirements on the patient’s behalf.

While we don’t have significant data regarding overall patient costs for India, there are expectations of cost reductions as we’ve seen in other markets. An example of this is captured in a poster that was presented at the 2015 ASCO conference by our team in collaboration with a major cancer centre in the U.S. The study that was referenced analysed the treatment of renal cancer patients with brand name drug, Sunitinib. The cost of a year of treatment can cost tens of thousands of dollars and treatment for even a trial period can be significant. NGS can help confirm the patient response to the drug, making treatment more efficient in terms of time and costs. We want to make this type of treatment available to all communities. Our company’s vision is founded on innovation—it drives our capabilities and inspires our work. Coupled with our growing global footprint, these are elements that set us apart from our competitors.

Collection of a large library of genomic data gathered from the tests can be used to improve the quality and accuracy of clinical research and discovery efforts. How could this bode for pharma companies? Do you have tie-ups with pharma companies in the US?

We are partnering with the companies that are taking the lead in the personalised treatment space. To this end, we are now working with seven out of twelve top global pharmaceutical companies including partnerships and collaborations with Gilead, AstraZeneca and Roche. These partnerships are central to our strategy. The pharma industry is changing its approach from blockbuster drug-focused to individualised treatment-focused and they will fuel the advancement of this approach.

We are fully on board with this and committed to making significant strides in individualised medicine in India. Because laboratory or clinical testing today are largely driven by information, we are currently developing a database in India as different populations have different genomic markers that indicate how cancer will progress or respond to certain treatments. This will help us discover and leverage genomic differences with a much higher degree of accuracy and efficiency. We will develop a knowledge base that is not only disease specific, but also local in scope.

What are your future plans for the Indian market?

We are committed to growing our presence in the Indian market, to expanding the use of personalised medicine and to improving cancer care in this community. The services CG India offers this market place are customised, sophisticated and are designed with the goal of making personalised cancer care accessible to all through collaborations with local hospitals such as Kamineni and other partners, to be announced. We are working closely with leading researchers locally in the government and private sectors.

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