Clinical Liquid Biopsy Explained

By Alex Vadas and Brian Baranick, L.E.K. Consulting

A minimally-invasive diagnostic that can help clinicians detect, diagnose, and manage cancer patients has long been the dream of many healthcare practitioners. Over the past few years, highly sensitive molecular technologies — primarily Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and digital PCR (dPCR) — have enabled researchers and clinicians to detect the presence of cancer genomic material (circulating tumor DNA, or ctDNA) in peripheral biofluids, such as blood.

The field known as liquid biopsy was born on the backs of these novel molecular technologies. But liquid biopsy is not limited to ctDNA, and may include detection of other cancer-derived particles, including exosomes harboring tumor RNA and circulating tumor cells (CTCs).

Despite all the press and hype, the term liquid biopsy often is used without a precise understanding of its different applications and technological approaches. This article lays out the key clinical applications, describes the various liquid biopsy technologies, and highlights some of the companies turning this dream into reality.

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