Oncor sees broader use for gene-based cancer test
Mar. 4, 1998

March 4, 1998

A Gaithersburg company that recently put the first-ever gene-based breast cancer test on the market has plans to offer similar tests for people suffering from other types of the disease, including prostate and ovarian cancer.

In late December, Oncor Inc. won approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its Inform test, to be used to help women diagnosed with breast cancer predict whether they will remain in remission.

The test, which looks for increased copies of a gene known as HER-2/neu in the original breast cancer tissue sample, would allow a woman to plan a course of attack against a recurrence rather than wait until the cancer is already advancing, company officials say.

The test is "absolutely" an important development in the fight against breast cancer, says Joann Schellenbach, a New York-based spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society.

"There are so many different types of breast cancer -- some very aggressive, some not so aggressive, some in between," Schellenbach said. "Right now, everyone's sort of treated the same: Some women are overtreated and some are undertreated.

"This test may lead us down the road to better treatments for women who are at a high risk of recurrence.''

Oncor will soon begin advertising Inform in women's magazines as well as medical journals, says Patrick Muraca, director of diagnostic programs for the company.

In 1997 an estimated 180,200 women were diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 43,900 deaths were attributed to breast cancer last year, the organization said. Few patients are more informed about treatment options than women battling breast cancer, explains Muraca, who said the company has received phone inquiries about Inform from pathologists and oncologists as well as women directly.

While Schellenbach agrees that breast cancer patients are often eager to possess as much information as they can about their disease, she worries about the effect Inform might have on women found to be at high risk for recurrence.

She wonders about the psychological fallout such a test result might bring, as well as the potential problems with health insurance that could result.

"Without the ability to say to these women, 'Here's what we do now,' what good does it do to test?'' Schellenbach asks, suggesting the test may be better suited for continued, carefully monitored clinical trials. Oncor officials say Inform isn't meant to be used alone, but as an additional weapon against breast cancer. "It's designed to be part of a multi-parameter diagnosis,'' Muraca said. "It's one very powerful tool that, used in conjunction with other tests and with treatments, can strengthen a positive prognosis for breast cancer.''

The test isn't designed for only the recently diagnosed. It can be used on years-old breast tissue, even the paper-thin tissue samples the oncologist has kept on record. Inform does not reveal a woman's predisposition to breast cancer, Oncor officials say.

Some critics of the new test have been confused about exactly what Inform is, Muraca said. Another type of HER-2/neu test uses an antibody stain and isn't as reliable as the gene-based test Oncor offers, he said. As for Inform's reliability, Oncor's clinical trials -- at teaching hospitals in Boston, Chicago, at Georgetown University and elsewhere -- found that 97 percent of breast-cancer patients who tested negatively for HER-2/neu were still alive after five years.

Stephen Turner, who also helped began the Montgomery County-grown company now known as Life Technologies, founded Oncor 15 years ago.

In the late 1980s, the company pioneered another type of gene-based cancer test to be used in the treatment of leukemia.

In announcing approval of the breast cancer test, Turner noted the growing prevalence of cancer, saying that a baby born today faces a one-in-three chance of getting cancer in his or her lifetime.

"Cancer is a health problem every American family is going to have to deal with,'' he said. "All of us share the need for new technology that (will) find the exact, molecular basis for cancer.''

Stockholders have greeted news of Oncor's latest development with some enthusiasm. The company, publicly held since 1991, has seen shares rise to $4.25.

Oncor first began clinical trials on Inform back in 1994, working with patients through the University of Southern California, the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin.

But a year later, the FDA delivered Oncor a setback. Officials questioned the test's "reproducibility'' -- whether the same results could be duplicated in other labs -- and asked the company to complete more studies.

"It's been a long process," Muraca said. "But we did prove what the panel asked us to."

Oncor could gain FDA approval for a second gene-based test, this one for prostate cancer, within two years, Muraca said.

The company is also looking at gene-based cancer tests for patients diagnosed with colon cancer, endometrial cancer and other forms of the disease. Another gene-based test, in the clinical research stage now, would help physicians diagnose lung cancer before problems show up on X-rays, Muraca said.


Business Interiors opens showroom at Walnut Center

Professional Office Enterprises of Alexandria, Va., is holding an open house at its first showroom for its office division, Business Interiors, in Gaithersburg this week.

The open house continues through March 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the showroom in The Walnut Center, 615 S. Frederick Ave., Suite R3.

"Every business has its own personality and style," David Lockman, the company's senior vice president, said in a prepared statement. "We offer a wide range of quality contract furniture to fit every budget and taste."

POE Business Interiors offers services such as space planning, upholstery and office interior design.

IDP gets Navy contract

International Data Products Corp. has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract by the U.S. Navy Fleet and Industrial Supply Center , Norfolk, Philadelphia Detachment, for the lease of information technology equipment.

In its 14th year of operation, IDP has been ranked as a leading supplier of notebook and desktop computers to the federal government. Its annual sales exceed $100 million. The company is located at 20 Firstfield Road, Gaithersburg.

Designer gets honors

Cynthia Grossmeuller McClure, senior designer with A.R.T. Design Build in Gaithersburg, has received two honorable mention awards in the National Kitchen and Bath Association's 1998 Design Competition.

The first award is in the category of small kitchen remodel for the Oberg family in Bethesda; the second is for the large master bathroom design for the Dellar family in McLean, Va.

Entries were judged on functional use of space, innovative design solutions, professional presentation and overall aesthetic statement.

A.R.T. Design Build has offices at 108 George St.