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Case for testing cancer in blood builds, one study at a time

Two new studies published on Wednesday of patients with breast and prostate cancers add to growing evidence that detecting bits of cancer DNA circulating in the blood can guide patient treatment.

Enthusiasm is building for "liquid biopsies," which offer a non-invasive alternative to standard tissue biopsies and are expected to be a multibillion-dollar market.

But a key question remains: Do they really work? The stakes are high. At least 38 companies are working on liquid biopsies for cancer, according to analysts at investment bank PiperJaffray, who think the U.S. market alone could eventually reach $29 billion a year.

Analysts at financial services firms Cowen & Co and Leerink Partners Llc estimate the potential at $10 billion within the next decade or so. Public companies in the field include Roche-backed Foundation Medicine Inc , Qiagen NV , Genomic Health Inc , Myriad Genetics Inc , Illumina Inc, Sequenom Inc and Trovagene Inc. Private players include Guardant Health Inc, Personal Genome Diagnostics Inc, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Exosome Diagnostics Inc and Pathway Genomics Corp.

"If it works, it is fantastic," said Severin Schwan, chief executive of Roche Holding AG, the world's biggest diagnostic company. "The question is, does it really work and does it work for all cancers?"

It is a concern shared by genome pioneer Craig Venter, whose company, Human Longevity Inc, has a partnership...