Technology developed by the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute and New England Peptide Inc. to test patients for cancer and other diseases through bodily fluids instead of a tissue biopsy has caught global attention.
ACRI has reached a licensing agreement with a Czech biotechnology company, BioVendor — Laboratorní medicína a.s., and has three more deals "in the works," said president and scientific director Dr. Rodney Ouellette.
The "liquid biopsy"-enabling technology is a fast, non-invasive, accurate and inexpensive way to diagnose patients and provide ongoing monitoring, said Ouellette.
It is the first technology developed by ACRI, a not-for-profit institute located at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, to be licensed for clinical and diagnostic purposes in patients.
"We are confident that our extracellular vesicle isolation technology will be able to enhance their diagnostic and liquid biopsy products," said Ouellette.
Diagnosis and monitoring
Extracellular vesicles (EVs), which include exosomes, are small cell-derived particles found in bodily fluids, such as plasma and urine.
Exosomes, "the new kid on the block" in cancer-detecting research, are essentially "information packages" that enable clinicians to distinguish between healthy and diseased cells, said Ouellette.
"They're loaded with information that comes from the cell that produced it and if it's a cancer cell, there's a lot of cancer-related information that's in there," he said.
Active cancer cells excrete a specific chemical that binds to peptides, a small piece of protein. So by adding the new synthetic peptide Vn96 to the fluid sample, if a bond develops, then cancer is present.
"It's important because we found out that looking at these exosomes in blood, you can sometimes get as much, sometimes more information [than] from a tumour a biopsy. So that's the first advantage."
By being able to identify a cancer tumour's unique mutations, clinicians will be able to tailor personalized, targeted treatment.
Market expected to 'balloon to billions'
Liquid biopsies can also be used for follow-up, said Ouellette.
"Once you remove the tumour, how do you monitor it? How do you know if it's coming back? How do you know if it's changing? This is a tool that allows us to monitor disease in real time," he said.
Currently, cancer patients go for CT scans every few months to check for recurrence. But liquid biopsies could be used instead and also detect and help predict changes to cancer cells, said Ouellette. "A CT scan or an MRI doesn't tell us that. Never will," he said.
"People are jockeying to get a piece of [the liquid biopsy] market because it's expected to balloon to billions of dollars in the next couple of years," he said.
He is hopeful ACRI will sign two more licensing agreements before the summer and finalize a third in the fall, with any proceeds being reinvested in further research.