As breast cancer researchers gather in the Lone Star state this week for the 30th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), device companies with technology aimed at diagnosing and treating the disease are hoping to outshine the competition with their latest developments.

The symposium kicked off yesterday and runs through Sunday at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.

“This is my eighth year here and it is one of the most significant of the breast cancer symposiums in the world today. There are more than 8,000 oncologists here,” Gerald Doyle, senior director of clinical research for Immunicon (Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania), told Medical Device Daily yesterday from the conference floor.

Three independent studies featuring Immunicon’s CellTracks technology and its CellSearch Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) kit were presented at SABCS yesterday.

“The technology has come a long way. We gave our first presentation about eight years ago and there were one or two posters,” Doyle said. “Here we are standing in a room dedicated to CTC research, with discussion of just these particular works, and I’d say that’s a pretty significant advancement.”

According to the company, the CellSearch system includes instruments and assays that identify, enumerate and characterize CTCs from a blood test. The device was developed by Immunicon and is marketed by Veridex (Warren, New Jersey), a business of Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, New Jersey).

The CellSearch test is FDA-cleared for monitoring patients with metastatic breast cancer or metastatic colorectal cancer (Medical Device Daily, Dec. 6, 2007).

Massimo Cristofanilli, MD, co-director of the first Inflammatory Breast Cancer Clinic at MD Anderson (Houston), is senior author on an abstract describing a large retrospective study involving 312 breast cancer patients evaluated between 2001 and 2007. Cristofanilli told MDD the study confirms that CTCs are a strong independent predictor of survival in metastatic breast cancer and provides evidence supporting the use of CTCs as a new stratification method in patients with newly diagnosed Stage IV disease.

Doyle said that another poster at the symposium, presented by Minetta Liu, MD, from the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center (Washington), demonstrated that the odds of disease progression are nearly five times higher for metastatic breast cancer patients with elevated CTC levels. The authors of the study propose that CTC measurement may therefore be particularly helpful in determining whether treatment is working in MBC patients in whom the disease cannot be accurately measured by conventional radiological methods, Doyle said.

Also, he said that results from a University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) study showed that CellTracks technology can be used to serially measure CTC in animals, indicating that the assay may be used in both the animal pre-clinical and human clinical phases of drug development and then into the market place as a diagnostic.

In other news from SABCS:

• Naviscan PET Systems (San Diego) reported new clinical data from a study using its PEM Flex scanner in breast cancer management.

PEM Flex Solo II is a FDA-cleared high-resolution PET scanner designed to image small body parts such as the breast and hand. Solo II uses PET for the breast application known as positron emission mammography or PEM, which allows physicians to visualize and characterize lesions as small as two millimeters in size, according to Naviscan.

Kathy Schilling, MD and medical director of Breast Imaging and Intervention at the Center for Breast Care at the Boca Raton Community Hospital in Florida presented data from their study involving 90 breast cancer patients, comparing the effectiveness and accuracy of breast imaging with PEM, MRI and WB PET/CT for pre-operative surgical planning.

“PEM’s high resolution imaging is right in the range of ductal size which is where cancer typically originates. We were pleased to find PEM demonstrated 93% sensitivity with ductal carcinoma in-situ cases and PEM also proved to be as sensitive as MRI in detecting invasive and non-invasive primary breast lesions,” said Schilling who has been studying PEM for more than a year, according to the company. “Besides the image quality of PEM and its ability to light up very small lesions, there is an ease of interpretation as you are only looking at some 48 images as opposed to hundreds with MRI.”

Schilling has been using the PEM Flex scanner in her practice as a tool for evaluating additional and unsuspected disease in the breast and compares these findings with that of MRI, Naviscan noted. She is also a principal investigator in a 400 patient, multi-center clinical trial comparing PEM and MRI in breast cancer patients to be completed in 2008.

Naviscan develops compact, high-resolution PET scanners that are intended to provide organ-specific imaging, guide radiological and surgical procedures, and minimally invasive therapy.

The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation (TNBC; Norwood, New Jersey) and Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Dallas) hosted a meeting prior to the opening of the annual symposium dedicated specifically to triple negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive and difficult-to-treat form of the disease.

According to TNBC and Komen, 30 researchers from leading cancer institutions in North America and Europe were invited to share information on the latest science, to discuss potential research collaborations and develop a scientific agenda for future research and clinical trials to find effective treatment for women with this subtype of breast cancer. The meeting also marked the first joint effort between the two organizations to share resources to accelerate research and progress for these women who, according to TNBC, are not benefiting from recent advances.

Research presented at the meeting showed that about 15% of breast cancer cases fall into the triple negative category but incidence rates among African American women, especially those who are younger, are significantly higher.

These tumors lack the three receptors shown to fuel most breast cancers — estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) — and generally do not respond to receptor-targeted treatments, the organizations noted.

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