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ASH Announces Donation of Next-Generation Sequencing Equipment to Countries in the International Consortium on Acute Leukemia

Sequencing technology will improve diagnosis and treatment of leukemia in low- and middle-income countries

(WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2020) — Today, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) announced the donation of next-generation sequencing equipment to six reference laboratories in five countries in Latin America that comprise the International Consortium on Acute Leukemia (ICAL), a clinical network strongly supported by the Society that is dedicated to improving the care of patients with acute leukemia. The effort to donate six iSeq™ 100 instruments and implement protocols for their use is being led by two ICAL volunteers and pioneers in next-generation sequencing, Peter Valk, PhD, of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Torsten Haferlach, MD, of the Munich Leukemia Laboratory in Germany and The Torsten Haferlach Leukemia Diagnostics Foundation.

This donation has the potential to be lifesaving for individuals with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Studies suggest that fewer than 20% of AML patients in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are long-term survivors. They face barriers to quality care including delayed diagnosis, absence of methods for proper risk stratification, and higher frequency of therapy-related complications. AML is a complex condition with several genetic subgroups. Next-generation sequencing enables health care providers to identify the patient’s subtype and prescribe a more targeted treatment. While next-generation sequencing technology has revolutionized the diagnosis of AML in countries with advanced health care systems, it can be costly to install and implement, particularly in low resource settings.

“ICAL has paved the way for many inspiring improvements in care for individuals living with AML in developing countries,” said ASH President Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “We appreciate the efforts of Drs. Haferlach and Valk to spearhead the implementation of next-generation sequencing for patients in participating countries. Their actions will enable patients in these countries to access appropriate care for their disease sub-type that was likely previously out of reach.”

The ICAL brings together leading clinical investigators from Europe, North America, and South America to improve the standard of care and outcomes for patients with leukemia in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. In these countries, ICAL activities have already yielded positive results, including infrastructure improvements, demographic enrollment, and enhanced collaboration among researchers.

According to the 2017 European LeukemiaNet (ELN) guidelines published in Blood, risk stratification of AML can only be achieved by implementing next-generation sequencing. Within the ICAL laboratory and diagnostic guidelines subcommittee, chaired by Dr. Valk, knowledge, protocols, and samples are exchanged to establish routine sequencing-based AML diagnostics.

“Through ICAL, I’ve had the privilege to work with this group of highly-skilled professionals from South America with a proven track record in molecular diagnostics of AML patients,” said Dr. Valk. “By providing them with the NGS tools and a broad support infrastructure we are advancing their skills and capabilities exponentially.”

The Torsten Haferlach Leukemia Diagnostics Foundation of Germany agreed to donate Illumina iSeq 100 machines, reagent starter kits, and software tools to each of the countries participating in ICAL. The donation, which was also supported by the biotechnology company, Illumina, will help ensure that AML patients in these nations benefit from more accurate classification and prognosis, and that they will ultimately have access to precision treatments.

“As a hematologist, I know very well how important the correct diagnosis is needed for best possible treatment. It is therefore a great pleasure and honor for me to be able to implement this project within the framework of ASH and ICAL,” said Dr. Haferlach. “Peter, and all the extremely committed and experienced colleagues in Latin America, will make this a great success. It is time for us to come together to tackle the important tasks in patient care and to make the best possible use of global advances in technology for our patients.”

“Next-generation sequencing has transformed our knowledge of the mutational landscape of AML and Illumina is proud to work with ICAL through Drs. Valk and Haferlach to ensure that the benefits of advances in sequencing techniques are realized across Latin America,” said Paula Dowdy, SVP and General Manager, EMEA, Illumina. “This initiative aligns fully with Illumina’s vision of democratizing access to genomics.”

The iSeq 100 instruments and consumables will be installed and fully operational by early next year. Full training for the lab teams will be delivered by Dr. Valk and his team from the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, as well as Dr. Haferlach’s team at the MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory.

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) (www.hematology.org) is the world’s largest professional society of hematologists dedicated to furthering the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting the blood. For more than 60 years, the Society has led the development of hematology as a discipline by promoting research, patient care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. ASH publishes Blood (www.bloodjournal.org), the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field, and Blood Advances (www.bloodadvances.org), an online, peer-reviewed open-access journal.

Amanda Szabo, American Society of Hematology
[email protected]; 202-552-4914