Characterization of Oncology Clinical Trials Using Germline Genetic Data

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Nov 1;5(11):e2242370. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.42370.


Importance: The recent successes of poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors and belzutifan support germline genetic data as an exciting, accessible source for biomarkers in cancer treatment. This study hypothesizes, however, that most oncology clinical trials using germline data largely prioritize BRCA1/2 as biomarkers and PARP inhibitors as therapy.

Objective: To characterize past and ongoing oncology trials that use germline data.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective cross-sectional study of oncology trials used the Informa Trialtrove database to evaluate trial attributes. Trials using germline information (including the terms germline, hereditary, or inherited in the title, treatment plan, interventions, end points, objectives, results, or notes) and conducted globally between December 1, 1990, and April 4, 2022 (data freeze date), were included.

Main outcomes and measures: Trials by cancer type, phase, participants, sponsor type, end points, outcomes, and locations were described. Associated biomarkers and mechanisms of action for studied therapeutic interventions were counted. How germline data in trial inclusion and exclusion criteria are associated with end points, outcomes, and enrollment were also examined.

Results: A total of 887 of 84 297 (1.1%) oncology clinical trials in the Trialtrove database that use germline data were identified. Most trials were conducted in cancer types where PARP inhibitors are already approved. A total of 74.8% (672) of trials were performed in the phase 2 setting or above. Trials were primarily sponsored by industry (523 trials [59.0%]), academia (382 trials [43.1%]), and the government (274 trials [30.9%]), where trials may have multiple sponsor types. Among 343 trials using germline data with outcomes in Trialtrove, 180 (52.5%) reported meeting primary end points. Although BRCA1/2 are the most frequent biomarkers seen (BRCA1, 224 trials [25.3%]; BRCA2, 228 trials [25.7%]), trials also examine pharmacogenomic variants and germline mediators of somatic biomarkers. PARP inhibitors or immunotherapy were tested in 69.9% of trials; PARP inhibition was the most frequently studied mechanism (367 trials [41.4%]). An overwhelming number of trials using germline data were conducted in the US, Canada, and Europe vs other countries, mirroring disparities in cancer genetics data. Germline data in inclusion and exclusion criteria are associated with altered end point, outcomes, and enrollment compared with oncology trials with no germline data use. Examples of inclusion and exclusion criteria regarding germline data that may unintentionally exclude patients were identified.

Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that for germline biomarkers to gain clinical relevance, trials must expand biomarkers, therapies, and populations under study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors* / pharmacology
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Biomarkers
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors