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Biomarker Testing and the Future of Oncology

April 13, 2023

Sucharu “Chris” Prakash, M.D., medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Paris, leads Texas Oncology’s precision medicine initiative and is the director of Quality Services for the practice. Dr. Prakash has played an integral role in the new biomarker bill that has been introduced in the Texas legislature – SB 989 (Huffman)/HB 3188 (Bonnen), a law that will help more patients access this important cancer test.

Testing for biomarkers increases the ability of physicians to use targeted therapies, reduces delays in time to recovery, and increases healthcare efficiency. However, some patients’ health insurance plans do not cover this important diagnostic testing. If passed, State bill 989 will provide broad coverage for such testing and remove some of the inequities faced by patients in cancer care, including those living in rural communities.

Dr. Prakash explains why biomarker testing is the future of oncology and how this innovative approach will help improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

What is biomarker testing and how is it impacting cancer care?

Cancer biomarkers are genes and proteins on cancer cells that can be tested to learn important details about a person's cancer. Checking for biomarkers is integral to personalized therapies as every person’s cancer has unique genetic makeup. Even with the same type of cancer, the cells can have different gene mutations which can determine how the cancer may respond to certain types of treatment. If a specific biomarker is identified, more effective, targeted therapies can be given to attack those cancer cells.

What is Texas Oncology’s approach to biomarker testing for patients?

Texas Oncology follows an evidence-based approach to cancer care and feels that biomarker testing is critical to providing quality care to cancer patients. We have started a first-of-its-kind precision medicine initiative to test all advanced cancers for biomarkers and targetable mutations. Such testing is even more important in patients with advanced disease who may not have further therapeutic options. In many cases, a targetable mutation or biomarker can be identified resulting in effective therapies which help improve patients’ quality of life.

How many patients has Texas Oncology conducted biomarker testing on since the new policy was implemented?

Texas Oncology's precision medicine initiative has been a huge success, testing more than 2,000 patients per month for biomarkers and allowing them access to targeted therapies which otherwise would not have been available. Testing biomarkers in cancer patients at this large scale puts Texas Oncology at the forefront of innovative, quality oncology care.

What obstacles are there to helping more patients access this important innovation in care?

Statistics show that less than half of patients eligible for biomarker testing are able to get testing done. A major obstacle is lack of insurance coverage for biomarker testing. Awareness and education of biomarker testing is also lacking among many providers and patients; therefore, it is critical we educate all stakeholders about its importance.

Looking to the future, how will biomarker testing change cancer care?

In the future, I visualize biomarker testing as the core of oncologic care. As technology advances, biomarker testing will become more sensitive and specific. We may be able to diagnose cancer and check for specific biomarkers from a blood sample without the need for a biopsy. Additionally, biomarkers will increasingly be used to determine a person's risk of developing cancer in future, finding cancer at an early stage, determining if treatment for cancer is effective, and to find out if their cancer has returned.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.