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Colorectal cancer (CRC) biopsies underpin accurate diagnosis, but are also relevant for patient stratification in molecularly-guided clinical trials. The consensus molecular subtypes (CMSs) and colorectal cancer intrinsic subtypes (CRISs) transcriptional signatures have potential clinical utility for improving prognostic/predictive patient assignment. However, their ability to provide robust classification, particularly in pretreatment biopsies from multiple regions or at different time points, remains untested. In this study, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the robustness of CRC transcriptional signatures, including CRIS and CMS, using a range of tumour sampling methodologies currently employed in clinical and translational research. These include analyses using (i) laser-capture microdissected CRC tissue, (ii) eight publically available rectal cancer biopsy data sets (n = 543), (iii) serial biopsies (from AXEBeam trial, NCT00828672; n = 10), (iv) multi-regional biopsies from colon tumours (n = 29 biopsies, n = 7 tumours), and (v) pretreatment biopsies from the phase II rectal cancer trial COPERNCIUS (NCT01263171; n = 44). Compared to previous results obtained using CRC resection material, we demonstrate that CMS classification in biopsy tissue is significantly less capable of reliably classifying patient subtype (43% unknown in biopsy versus 13% unknown in resections, p = 0.0001). In contrast, there was no significant difference in classification rate between biopsies and resections when using the CRIS classifier. Additionally, we demonstrated that CRIS provides significantly better spatially- and temporally- robust classification of molecular subtypes in CRC primary tumour tissue compared to CMS (p = 0.003 and p = 0.02, respectively). These findings have potential to inform ongoing biopsy-based patient stratification in CRC, enabling robust and stable assignment of patients into clinically-informative arms of prospective multi-arm, multi-stage clinical trials. © 2018 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Original publication




Journal article


J Pathol

Publication Date





19 - 28


biopsy, colorectal cancer, consensus molecular subtypes, gene expression profiling, intrinsic subtypes, molecular stratification, transcriptional signatures