How Imaging Can Impact Clinical Trial Design: Molecular Imaging as a Biomarker for Targeted Cancer Therapy

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The ability to measure biochemical and molecular processes to guide cancer treatment represents a potentially powerful tool for trials of targeted cancer therapy. These assays have traditionally been performed by analysis of tissue samples. However, more recently, functional and molecular imaging has been developed that is capable of in vivo assays of cancer biochemistry and molecular biology and is highly complementary to tissue-based assays. Cancer imaging biomarkers can play a key role in increasing the efficacy and efficiency of therapeutic clinical trials and also provide insight into the biologic mechanisms that bring about a therapeutic response. Future progress will depend on close collaboration between imaging scientists and cancer physicians and on public and commercial sponsors, to take full advantage of what imaging has to offer for clinical trials of targeted cancer therapy. This review will provide examples of how molecular imaging can inform targeted cancer clinical trials and clinical decision making by (1) measuring regional expression of the therapeutic target, (2) assessing early (pharmacodynamic) response to treatment, and (3) predicting therapeutic outcome. The review includes a discussion of basic principles of molecular imaging biomarkers in cancer, with an emphasis on those methods that have been tested in patients. We then review clinical trials designed to evaluate imaging tests as integrated markers embedded in a therapeutic clinical trial with the goal of validating the imaging tests as integral markers that can aid patient selection and direct response-adapted treatment strategies. Examples of recently completed multicenter trials using imaging biomarkers are highlighted.

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