17 Aug GenTel licenses next generation cancer research
Madison, Wis. – Recent biochemical research into certain forms of cancer has focused on disease-related changes in the protein composition of blood. As these studies progress, significant lines of inquiry will examine not only the protein changes induced by cancer but changes in the sugar molecules that naturally attach to those proteins.
In the serum of pancreatic cancer patients, for instance, researchers have distinguished carbohydrate structures that could be implicated in the way cancer cells invade, divide, and spread.
Thanks to new license agreement with a Michigan research laboratory, GenTel BioSciences, multiplex immunoassay-based life sciences company located in Madison, will play a prominent role in this new avenue of research.
Brian Haab, PhD, a scientific investigator with the Grand Rapids-based Van Andel Institute Laboratory of Cancer Immunodiagnostics, is considered a pioneering figure in this field. Based on several experiments, Haab and his team have developed a novel array-based strategy to probe the levels of specific carbohydrate structures on multiple different proteins.
GenTel BioSciences will develop one such strategy into a variety of assay technologies. Under the terms of the license agreement between Van Andel and GenTel, the assays will be commercialized and ready for sale to laboratories in one year.
The leaders of GenTel hope that their product will contribute to the work of researchers as they delve into the complex abundance of cellular processes that have entrenched cancer as among the most unstoppable of human afflictions.
How it works
The technology focuses on the process by which sugar (carbohydrate) molecules naturally bond to proteins (such as antibodies) in a process called glycosylation. This process occurs as part of biosynthesis and is an important determinant of protein function.
Changes in glycosylation are thought to play roles in certain disease processes.
GenTel’s technology modifies the normal sugar molecules associated with antibodies printed on GenTel’s arrays so that they are no longer reactive with lectins, a group of proteins that bind specific sugar molecules, explained Robert Negm, PhD, VP, business development for GenTel.
When blood from a diseased person is probed against an array of antibodies specific to different cancer proteins, then researchers can simultaneously profile the blood not only through measurements of the amount of cancer proteins (biomarkers) but also glean information about the amounts of specific sugars associated with those proteins.
The “new and enabling” result is a multiplex assay (biochip) that gives researchers data from blood tests to examine the addition of sugars to proteins, said Bryce Nelson, PhD, VP, research and development for GenTel.
The quantity and structure of sugar molecules attached to the proteins in blood can provide clues about the presence of cancer. “When proteins are aberrantly glycosylated,” Negm noted, “that can be associated with cancer.”
The technology is still in the early stages, but a researcher could compare the results from a group of sick patients to those of healthy patients to pick out differences. These differences can be used to locate new diagnostic biomarkers, which in turn can be used to develop early-detection testing to help treat cancer.
“If you can detect cancer early, before clinical symptoms or the manifestation of the disease occur, you’re in a better position to intervene,” Negm said.
Haab already has used the technology to investigate pancreatic cancer but other applications could follow.
Added Nelson: “We’re going to make this available to a much broader audience. We’re going to expand it to look at prostate and other cancers.”
The market for tumor serum analyte in-vitro diagnostic tests is approximately $1 billion per year worldwide, Negm said. Although nobody has an exact number on the glycosylation segment of that market, Negm believes that GenTel’s first-to-market advantage will be significant.
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