The liquid biopsy market
In September 2015, Illumina (ILMN) announced a collaboration with MSKCC (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) to explore ctDNA (circulating tumor DNA), the small pieces of DNA released by tumor cells into the bloodstream. This can be detected using genome sequencing technology to test for cancerous cells in the body. This method, called liquid biopsy, is much more accurate than traditional biopsies used to detect malignant tumors in the body.
A liquid biopsy is a type of molecular monitoring technology that helps detect future possibility of cancer in otherwise healthy people. According to a Cowen and Company report, DNA testing for cancer will exceed $10 billion by 2020.
Illumina and MSKCC will conduct six clinical trials to further understand the ctDNA’s correlation with cancer stages, types of affected tissues, and patient age and ethnicity. They expect to get more information from liquid biopsies than from traditional testing methods. Unlike traditional methods that analyze subsets of the tumor cells, ctDNA liquid biopsies can capture the entire heterogeneous structure of the tumor. These clinical studies are expected to finish in the next three years.
If proven more effective than traditional methods, liquid biopsy testing could be useful to biotechnology companies such as Amgen (AMGN), Biogen (BIIB), and Gilead Sciences (GILD) for developing innovative cancer therapies.
You can get exposure to Illumina’s $10 billion cancer testing opportunity yet avoid company-specific risks by investing in the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB). Illumina accounts for 4.09% of its total holdings.