An Inflection Point in Cancer Protein Biomarkers: What was and What's Next

Anna D. Barker*, Mario M. Alba, Parag Mallick, David B. Agus, Jerry S.H. Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Biomarkers remain the highest value proposition in cancer medicine today—especially protein biomarkers. Despite decades of evolving regulatory frameworks to facilitate the review of emerging technologies, biomarkers have been mostly about promise with very little to show for improvements in human health. Cancer is an emergent property of a complex system, and deconvoluting the integrative and dynamic nature of the overall system through biomarkers is a daunting proposition. The last 2 decades have seen an explosion of multiomics profiling and a range of advanced technologies for precision medicine, including the emergence of liquid biopsy, exciting advances in single-cell analysis, artificial intelligence (machine and deep learning) for data analysis, and many other advanced technologies that promise to transform biomarker discovery. Combining multiple omics modalities to acquire a more comprehensive landscape of the disease state, we are increasingly developing biomarkers to support therapy selection and patient monitoring. Furthering precision medicine, especially in oncology, necessitates moving away from the lens of reductionist thinking toward viewing and understanding that complex diseases are, in fact, complex adaptive systems. As such, we believe it is necessary to redefine biomarkers as representations of biological system states at different hierarchical levels of biological order. This definition could include traditional molecular, histologic, radiographic, or physiological characteristics, as well as emerging classes of digital markers and complex algorithms. To succeed in the future, we must move past purely observational individual studies and instead start building a mechanistic framework to enable integrative analysis of new studies within the context of prior studies. Identifying information in complex systems and applying theoretical constructs, such as information theory, to study cancer as a disease of dysregulated communication could prove to be “game changing” for the clinical outcome of cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100569
JournalMolecular and Cellular Proteomics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


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