Independence Blue Cross to cover cancer genome sequencing

Independence Blue Cross will begin including whole-genome sequencing for some cancers as a covered benefit starting this spring, the health insurer said Monday.

Independence, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliate based in Philadelphia, said it struck a deal with Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s health technology firm NantHealth to offer coverage for the sequencing. Independence’s commercial members will have access to the testing in March. It’ll only apply to people who have certain types of cancers and in situations where traditional therapies haven’t worked.

Whole-genome sequencing is the most comprehensive type of genetic testing that gives scientists and doctors the ability to analyze a person’s entire genome. The precision medicine test gives researchers more data to determine which abnormal genes may be behind someone’s cancer, and individualized treatments can be built as a result.

“This platform, we believe, will provide more effective treatment options for patients with cancer,” Soon-Shiong said in a news release.

Independence’s coverage decision would be coupled with NantHealth’s technologies. The companies did not say how much the test costs. However, Partners HealthCare in Boston has charged $9,000 for its individual whole-genome sequencing.

Investment in gene-sequencing research is one of the cancer-related efforts Vice President Joe Biden hopes to see before he leaves office.

On Friday, Biden met with leading cancer researchers and advocates to discuss what might be accomplished during his last months in office and what initiatives might show results quickly.

Biden, whose son Beau died from brain cancer in May 2015, said upon announcing he was not seeking the presidency in 2016, that he believes “we need a moon shot in this country to cure cancer.”

Scientists at the meeting said Biden is also interested in an open-access data-sharing initiative that would allow researchers and institutions to share certain observations.

It was one of several meetings Biden and his staff have attended in the past few months on how to sput cancer research.

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