A new, more sensitive blood test for post-surgical bowel cancer recurrence, developed by CSIRO scientists, has been launched in the US.

The challenge

A more sensitive test for colorectal cancer recurrence

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer (CRC), is the second most common cause of death from cancer in Australia, with almost 15,000 new cases diagnosed annually. It is responsible for more than 600,000 deaths worldwide each year.

Post-surgical recurrence of CRC occurs in 30 to 50 percent of cases, most often in the first two to three years following initial diagnosis and treatment. The current method for monitoring recurrence is via a blood test for carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) in combination with CT scans and other clinical assessments. CEA is a widely known marker for gastrointestinal tract diseases, especially CRC, however it has low sensitivity and is subject to false-positive results, limiting its usefulness.

Our response

A science and industry partnership to develop a better test for CRC

CSIRO, in collaboration with Flinders University and Australian-founded biotechnology company Clinical Genomics, identified DNA with cancer-specific chemical changes associated with bowel cancer which are not found in normal colon tissue. The team was able to show that some of these changes can be detected in the blood of patients with CRC, providing a reliable marker for detection of the disease.

This discovery was used to develop a new innovation, known as Colvera™, a blood test which detects these cancer-specific chemical changes in fragments of DNA from the tumour found circulating in the blood. Clinical trials have shown Colvera™ to be more than two times as sensitive for CRC recurrence as the current CEA test.

The results

A clinically validated test launched in the US

Colvera™ increases the likelihood of detecting curable CRC recurrences which could lead to a reduction in the number of deaths from the cancer. Clinical Genomics successfully launched Colvera in the US market in late 2016. The test is currently available in the US through Clinical Genomics' laboratory in Bridgewater, New Jersey. It is hoped that the test will become available in Australia later in 2017.

According to CSIRO Scientist Dr Trevor Lockett, Colvera™ is "a real success story of science partnering with industry to create impact, and has provided an excellent learning opportunity for researchers to see science being applied with a business and intense product focus."

Further research is being conducted to investigate the utility of related blood tests for the early detection of CRC, which may provide a valuable adjunct to current CRC screening techniques.

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