Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) sequencing is being rapidly adopted in precision oncology, but the accuracy, sensitivity and reproducibility of ctDNA assays is poorly understood. Here we report the findings of a multi-site, cross-platform evaluation of the analytical performance of five industry-leading ctDNA assays. We evaluated each stage of the ctDNA sequencing workflow with simulations, synthetic DNA spike-in experiments and proficiency testing on standardized, cell-line-derived reference samples. Above 0.5% variant allele frequency, ctDNA mutations were detected with high sensitivity, precision and reproducibility by all five assays, whereas, below this limit, detection became unreliable and varied widely between assays, especially when input material was limited. Missed mutations (false negatives) were more common than erroneous candidates (false positives), indicating that the reliable sampling of rare ctDNA fragments is the key challenge for ctDNA assays. This comprehensive evaluation of the analytical performance of ctDNA assays serves to inform best practice guidelines and provides a resource for precision oncology.
© 2021. This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply.