What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Lung cancer biomarker testing is a vital piece of precision medicine, but what are the challenges around testing? Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss the goals of biomarker testing for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and common barriers to biomarker testing access.

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Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So we know that biomarker testing connects the right patient to the right treatment at the right time and potentially to the right clinical trial, but there also are some challenges and interventions are necessary, and that’s going to really frame our conversation today. So I’d like to start with the general landscape, so I’m going to start with you, Dr. Wakelee, what in your opinion and expertise are the existing challenges as it relates to biomarker testing in academic medical centers?

Dr. Heather Wakelee: 

Thanks for that question, Dr. Rochester. I think that the biggest challenge is making sure that every patient with a new diagnosis of advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer gets the testing done and gets the testing results back before they start treatment, right? And that’s the goal. I guess that’s more of the goal than the problem, and the challenges come in each of those different phases. First is making sure that every patient is given access to the testing, and there are barriers if the patient ends up very, very sick in a hospital setting.

There are some regulations that can make that challenging, they might be…their first encounters with the healthcare system are going to potentially be with pulmonologist, general practitioners, interventional radiology. And those people might not be aware of what needs to happen to get the tissue as quickly as possible into testing, they might not be as aware of drawing a blood test, if we’re going to do a liquid biopsy, and so if those things aren’t initiated first, when the patient gets to see the oncologist some days or even a week or two later, we’re already further down the path.

They might be starting to get symptoms, and then when you start the testing, you might have to wait longer than is really acceptable before you have the results that could inform treatment. And as you said, Dr. Rochester, the testing, when we get those molecular results back, that’s going to help us figure out what’s going on in that tumor that might change our treatment options, because there’s a driver mutation where there’s a new drug approved that’s going to be the best efficacious opportunity for that patient. And if they don’t know, they can’t start it, we also run into issues where if the patient’s symptomatic, we can’t wait, and then they get started on chemotherapy and immune therapy, which might otherwise be a standard approach, immune therapy is in the body, chemotherapy is in the body, the toxicity is there, and then if you later find out, oh, there was a driver mutation, your hands are a little tied, because the toxicity can be amplified if you combine agents and the immune therapy is in the system for months.

So these are some of the challenges and really the barrier…the biggest barriers from my perspective are not every patient is being tested with comprehensive testing as early as possible, right?

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you for that, Dr. Wakelee, you’ve really, really outlined how the challenges around access to testing and even the timeliness and the importance of timely testing and the fact that these patients are often kind of making their way through a series of providers before they get to the oncologist. So I appreciate that. Dr. Boehmer, I know you have a lot of experience in the community setting where we know there are a host of additional barriers, so I’d love for you to weigh in on this question, and what challenges are you seeing with biomarker testing in the community setting?

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

Thanks very much for the question. Yeah, I think the use of precision medicine was initially touted as this opportunity to address care disparities, whether that’s in racial ethnic minorities, differences between academic and community practices, et cetera, by using the technology to try to determine treatment largely based on things like the genetic makeup of a tumor, and unfortunately, in reality disparities have sadly only continued to grow in the setting of targeted and/or testing related to things like ability to pay and insurance coverage for testing, mistrust in the healthcare system and historical injustices related to cancer care delivery. And there’s a significant discordance in literature between patients and clinicians understanding of the importance of biomarker testing relative to treatment planning.

So even now in 2023, as more states are passing legislation to expand coverage of comprehensive testing, we’re hearing from member programs of ACCC running up against increasing prior authorization restrictions and requirements, and there are unfortunate ramifications of that, like additional costs to programs or additional costs to patients, for example, in the setting of reflexive testing, there’s also a lot of ongoing data which suggests concerning continued racial disparities in rates of guideline concordant testing, so there’s a lot of opportunities for us to learn, yes, from what we have done in successful models of rollout of testing, but we’re still confronting some pretty major challenges and barriers, and I gotta say that’s true whether you’re talking about community programs and practices or academic partners as well. 

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