According to @Genentech, the official Twitter account of Genentech, “The #DNA in spit from cancer survivors may help scientists better understand cancer.” That being the case, the next logical step is to collect as much spit from cancer survivors as possible. To accomplish that, Genentech teemed up with 23andMe — the personal genetics firm that aired its first TV ad Monday in a bid to build the audience for DNA sequencing (see here) to launch the InVite Study, which recruits patients online. The goal of the study is to collect spit to find out why people respond differently to Avastin — Genentech’s expensive (up to $100,000 per year per patient) drug for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer, among others.

Genentech is using Twitter and Youtube to encourage qualifying patients to submit samples of saliva via a kit supplied by 23andMe. Here’s the Youtube promotional video titled “Spit for Science”:

Information about the study can be found on the 23andMe Web site (here), which proclaims that Avastin is used in the “treatment of locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, metastatic colorectal cancer, metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer, recurrent glioblastoma, or metastatic renal cell carcinoma.” Here’s a screen shot (click on it to enlarge):

Actually, a couple of years ago, the FDA ruled that Avastin could no longer be marketed as treatment for breast cancer because Avastin’s risky side-effects outweigh its benefits for breast cancer patients. “Women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life threatening or serious side-effects, such as heart attacks or heart failure, severe high blood pressure, bleeding or hemorrhaging,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said (see here). Perhaps 23andMe should not mention breast cancer on its web site.

In any case, Avastin’s problem is there is a tiny segment of patients for whom the drug offers a big improvement, but to date, there was no means of identifying who those patients are. Hence, the InVite Study. NOTE: I am informed by a Weber Shandwick representative that “MERiDiAN is the Phase III trial exploring a potential biomarker for Avastin that Genentech discussed with the FDA.” According to this person, “It would be correct to say: ‘InVite is part of a broad initiative at Genentech to explore new and innovative ways to develop medicines.'”

What are the advantages of participating in this research?

  1. Learn more about your health (if you choose to view your health reports) and genetic ancestry for free
  2. Take a direct role in research that may benefit you and other patients with advanced metastatic cancer
  3. Participate in web-based research from the comfort of your own home
  4. Be kept informed of the discovery process as research advances

#1 is basically an ad for 23andMe’s genetic testing services. 23andMe is offering study participants complimentary access to its Personal Genome Service (PGS). “The Personal Genome Service® provides you with your unique personal genetic profile, including more than 200 health and trait reports and information about your ancestry.”

#2 is interesting in light of a recent poll that showed the vast majority (73% to 80%) of patients are willing to share their personal health information to aid researchers, assuming “appropriate privacy protections” are in place (see here). Hopefully, 23andMe have implemented the “appropriate privacy protections.” The company claims, however, that a “100% guarantee in the field of information security does not exist since there are always unknown threats.”