Broad Institute targets blood-draw diagnostics


With pledges of $25 million, the nonprofit Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard plans to announce Tuesday that it’s creating a new center to develop a diagnostic test to pinpoint how well cancer patients respond to treatment through a simple blood draw.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the former CEO of IBM who chairs the institute’s board of directors, has committed $15 million to the Gerstner Center for Cancer Diagnostics at the Broad. The center will receive an additional $10 million from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

The center is pursuing a goal that some other biotech companies in the United States are also chasing: developing a sensitive blood-based biopsy to speed cancer detection.


Although many aspects of cancer treatment have improved dramatically in recent years, diagnostic tests have lagged, according to Broad officials. Today, doctors still rely on a biopsy of a tumor obtained through surgery or have the patient undergo a CT or MRI scan. Surgical biopsies are invasive, of course, and the other tests provide no molecular insights.

The Gerstner Center will focus on developing a blood biopsy that would monitor a patient’s response to chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy with molecular precision. Broad scientists hope the test would identify small numbers of cancer cells that remain in patients who have been treated and may cause a relapse years or even decades later.

“Not long ago, I thought that blood biopsy was more science fiction than reality,” said Dr. Todd Golub, a cancer specialist who works as Broad’s chief scientific officer and will head the Gerstner Center. “In fact, Broad scientists have demonstrated that it’s possible to look at an entire cancer genome from a blood biopsy. That is spectacular.”

The new center will work with technology experts, cancer biologists, computational scientists, and clinicians.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com