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The Overtreatment Conundrum: Definiens Identifies Three Steps for Advancing Diagnostics to Reduce Unnecessary Cancer Treatment and Improve Patient Health

Definiens, the global leader in Tissue Phenomics™ for diagnostics development in oncology, today released tips for the development of diagnostics to help physicians make more informed decisions, reduce unnecessary treatment and improve overall patient health. As the global cost of cancer care continues to rise exponentially, tests based on data generated from the analysis of tissue samples can play a critical role in helping improve stratification to provide patients with effective personalized care.

The overtreatment of cancer represents a significant and complex issue from both a health economics and patient care perspective. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine report “the annual direct costs of cancer care are projected to rise from $104 billion in 2006 to over $173 billion in 2020.” The problem, however, is that the current clinical and pathological parameters for diagnosing many cancer-types fail to accurately segment individual patients into specific risk groups. Many patients with low to intermediate stage cancers often receive the same level of aggressive treatment administered to patients with advanced, late-stage cancers. The result? Much of the money is spent on treatments that are unnecessary; leaving many patients needlessly exposed to potentially harmful side effects and long-term health consequences.

“The pervasive problem of cancer overtreatment highlights the urgent need for tests that can improve stratification in order to accurately identify those patient groups that require aggressive treatment, while allowing clinicians to separate out low-risk patients that will benefit from active surveillance,” said Dr. Ralf Huss, Chief Medical Officer of Definiens. “Definiens Tissue Phenomics™ solutions provides researchers with the necessary tools to extract, analyze and correlate all relevant data from heterogeneous tissue samples in order to develop innovative diagnostic tests with the capacity to inform better treatment decisions, lower healthcare costs and meet the needs of individual patients.”

Definiens’ three steps for the development of diagnostics that can reduce unnecessary cancer treatment and improve patient health include:

1. Recognize the Importance of Analyzing Intact Tissue

Over the past decade, advancements in next generation sequencing have proven essential for the molecular subgrouping of patients on the basis of genomic data. However, because there is only partial correlation between gene mutations, gene expression and actual tumor behavior, genomic information alone only provides a first-stage projection of cancer development. Conversely, focusing on the data that resides in intact tissue samples, including the number, shape, size and morphology of different structures and cells and proteins active in and around the tumor, will allow researchers to derive a more precise understanding of tumor biology and identify more effective biomarkers as result.

2. Focus on the Entire Tumor Microenvironment

Among researchers, a focus on genomics has often led to a preoccupation with the tumor itself. However, recent advances in immunotherapy indicate that the development of effective tests that have the ability to determine the likelihood of tumor recurrence and long-term treatment success require image analysis of the entire tumor microenvironment. This includes an understanding of the ways in which cancer cells change and grow in relation to surrounding cellular tissue. Looking at the larger context in which the tumor exists can better inform treatment decisions by providing invaluable insights regarding the probability of cancer progression.

3. Take a Big Data Approach to Tissue Analysis

To be sure, the data that resides in tissue samples is both vast and heterogeneous. Consequently, it is also far too complex and voluminous for human analysis alone. Automated image analysis and data mining that can fully quantify and extract all of the data that resides in tissue samples are critical for the development of tests with real prognostic value. In this regard, a big data approach that allows researchers to correlate information from multiple sources, including complex tissue signatures and genomic profiles, can provide the comprehensive picture needed for superior personalized and targeted treatment decisions.

About Definiens

Definiens is the global leader in Tissue Phenomics™ for discovery and diagnostics development in oncology and provides image analysis solutions for life sciences. Definiens' technology provides detailed tissue biomarker readouts from slide images and enables the correlation of this information with other key clinical or genomic information, an approach known as Tissue Phenomics™. Definiens helps pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, research institutions, clinical service organizations and pathologists to generate new knowledge and support better decisions in research, diagnostics and therapy.

Definiens’ vision is to open new fields of research, to contribute to development of personalized medicine, and to significantly improve the quality of patients' lives. Definiens is headquartered in Munich, Germany and has its North American headquarters in Carlsbad, CA. Further information is available at

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