New Method Detects Colon Cancer from Blood

Masaryk University, Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute and the BioVendor Company have signed a licensing agreement for a diagnostic kit developed by the team of scientists from CEITEC MU led by Ondřej Slabý. The new, patented method of colorectal cancer diagnosis allows for early detection and monitoring of colorectal cancer by simply testing the patient’s blood. The complete diagnostic kit could be available to doctors within two years.

30 Jun 2020 Ondřej Franek

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Pioneers of Innovative Diagnostics from Brno
For more than 10 years, Mr Ondřej Slabý and his colleagues from the Department of Biology, Faculty of Medicine and the Centre for Molecular Medicine, CEITEC MU have been researching the so-called non-coding RNAs and their use in innovative methods of diagnosing cancer. They published the first scientific paper on microRNA as soon as 2007 as the first Czech team dealing with this problem. This work was followed by more than 100 other publications. Nowadays, the team of Ondřej Slabý collaborates with the world’s leading experts in this field; they are also members of renowned international consortia focusing on the development of cancer diagnostics based on non-coding RNAs. Currently, they are also celebrating their first achievements regarding transfer and commercialization of their scientific findings.

New Methods Helped
Recently developed high-throughput genomic technologies helped to advance the field of innovative diagnostics. One of these is the Next-Generation Sequencing method which has brought a faster and cheaper way of detecting nucleic acids. Thanks to this technology, the scientists were able to read all the short microRNAs (a class of short, noncoding RNAs) related to colorectal cancer not only in the tumour tissue but also in body fluids such as blood serum. Tumour cells use microRNAs to communicate with their environment, that is how they can get into the bloodstream. Presence of such microRNAs in a patient’s blood indicates the occurrence of cancer. After comparing the levels of microRNA related to colorectal cancer in several hundred patients and healthy subject the scientists were able to devise a new method to diagnose this type of cancer. Not only does the newly developed method detect the presence of tumour from the blood, but it also helps the doctors to monitor the patient’s treatment, reveal cancer recurrence or predict the chances of a patient’s survival for the next three years in every stage of the disease. This information is vital for planning the treatment and helping doctors to decide whether the patient should undergo surgery. The new method is very accurate as well; it can correctly identify colorectal cancer in nine out of ten patients.

The Kit is Being Developed in Cooperation with a Biotech Company
First, the scientists had the method patented at the Industrial Property Office. Its further development has been carried out in cooperation with the Czech biotech company, Biovendor, who have shown a keen interest in this new diagnostic method. The research team first signed a framework cooperation agreement with Biovendor. Only after that did the company verify the method in their own labs. At the end of last year, a licensing agreement was signed by Masaryk University, Biovendor and Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute which played a key role as a supplier of biological material. The finished and clinically validated kit could be available to doctors in two years. However, first, a production technological process has to be prepared and all its aspects have to be verified and clinically validated on patients with a hereditary form of this disease to prove that the diagnostic kit really works. When the end product reaches the market, Masaryk University will be entitled to a share of the sales revenue. In future, the modified diagnostic kit could be used for screening tests of the disease as well.

Colorectal Cancer is One of the Most Frequent Cancers in the Czech Republic
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the world. In the Czech Republic, colorectal cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer; every year, there is around 8000 new cases of this disease diagnosed and over 4000 people succumb to the disease. Even though the Czech Republic has an extensive screening programme that regularly tests people over 50 for colorectal tumours or precancerous conditions, the percentage of detected early-stage tumours, the treatment of which is much more successful, is still very low. One of the reasons people are reluctant to take part in the screening and undergo faecal occult blood test is the general distaste for handling faeces. Moreover, tumours that cause colorectal bleeding are often in an advanced stage already. Another reason is that a positive test if followed by a colonoscopy which is an unpleasant examination often turning out negative. The new diagnostic kit should help to reduce the number of patients that have to undergo colonoscopy and, at the same time, raise the number of successfully detected early stages of this disease.

“The finished and clinically validated kit could
be available to doctors in two years.”

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