It was no surprise that Molecular Med Tri-Con 2021 was a virtual event this year. Not only was the format of the conference shaped by the global pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 on our industry as well as lessons learned resonated in the presentations and round table discussions. In addition to a dedicated COVID-19 track covering varied topics such as diagnostics, vaccine strategies and approvals, in other non-COVID related tracks, there was underlying optimism that COVID-19 may shape our industry for the better. Discussions included hopes in accelerating vaccine approval timelines, and importantly, the proven power of focused partnership and collaboration through the pandemic that can be harnessed to accelerate the broader field of precision medicine.
Some key technical takeaways were that the field of liquid biopsy is firmly taking hold. Circulating tumor nucleic acid testing (ctDNA & ctRNA) is the most mature in terms of routine clinical adoption, with circulating tumor cells (CTCs) creating more of growing buzz. The concept of biomarker stacking or high-order complex biomarkers was prevalent throughout. In liquid biopsies, we see emergence of “second generation markers” (e.g. - DNA methylation, miRNA, and fragmentomics) being paired with conventional mutation sequencing with hopes to increase clinical sensitivity (pertinent clinical information when genomic sequencing results are “negative”). The progress of multiplexed protein biomarker panels on mIF platforms such as NeoGenomics’ MultiOmyx and Polaris platform are increasing in trend. The increase in complex biomarkers, disparate technologies and datasets facilitates the need for AI and machine learning to help make sense of it all. Companion diagnostics discussions focused on global strategies, regional market hurdles, lack of technology adoption challenging CDx growth and the move of CDx outside of oncology. The need for standardization and collaboration was repeatedly reviewed in terms of pre-competitive collaborations through industry consortia.
Notable and thought provoking snippets:
- Biospecimens from different tissue vendors may come from the same pool of patients, causing researchers to overestimate cohort size. Ensure traceability and sourcing safeguards are in place to better understand biospecimen samples. Recommend collecting as much de-identified information as possible about the biospecimen including collection location, date and region of body.
- PD-L1 is the only biomarker fully validated for immunotherapy and used in most pathology studies of non-small cell lung cancer. Tumor mutational burden (TMB) is important for outcome prediction but not standardized nor reproducible enough in measurements to serve as an accurate biomarker yet.
Tracks at Molecular Med Tri-Con 2021 included:
- COVID-19 Diagnostics
- COVID-19 Vaccines and Biotherapeutics
- Circulating Tumor Cells and Liquid Biopsies
- Immuno-Oncology Biomarkers
- Data Analytics and AI for Precision Medicine
- Point of Care Diagnostics
- Clinical & Translational Biomarkers