Pancreatic cancer biomarkers sought

Oxford Gene Technology and Abcodia combine expertise to search for better biomarkers for the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Lloyd Dunlap
OXFORD, U.K.—Oxford Gene Technology (OGT), which providesclinical genetics and diagnostic solutions for application in molecularmedicine, will work with Abcodia Ltd., a specialist company engaged in thevalidation and discovery of biomarkers for cancer and other age-relateddiseases, to improve the early detection of pancreatic cancer. As part of thiscollaboration, Abcodia will provide access to its large prospective serumbiobank comprising samples taken from individuals up to seven years before thediagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 
 
 
OGT will apply its functional protein array platform and itsGenefficiency microRNA profiling array to identify pancreatic cancer-specificbiomarkers that can be used as diagnostic indicators of early-stage pancreaticcancer. Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.
 
 
"The information that we will obtain from the two platforms willbe different," notes Dr. John Anson, vice president of biomarker discovery atOGT. "From the protein array work, we are focused on identifying a panel ofbiomarkers based on the presence of pancreatic cancer-specific autoantibodiesin the serum. This approach relies on the body's own immune response to detectchanges occurring at the protein level during the disease process. From themiRNA profiling, we plan to identify specific miRNAs that can discriminatebetween blood samples from patients with disease and healthy controls. In thiscase, we are focused on the changes that may occur at the level of control ofdisease-specific gene expression. These two data sets will be generated andinterrogated independently, but the data can be combined to look for biomarkerpanels that could include both protein and miRNA markers."
 
 
At present, the prognosis for someone diagnosed withpancreatic cancer is poor. The limitations of current diagnostic techniquesmean that often the cancer is not detected until after it has spread. Theidentification of sensitive and specific biomarkers that allow early detectionof pancreatic cancer could therefore significantly increase survival rates.
 
 
"Multiple populations could benefit from any diagnosticproduct identified through this collaboration," says Abcodia CEO Dr. JulieBarnes. "There are a number of emerging risk factors for pancreatic cancer,which may prompt the use of a screening test. These include previous incidenceof pancreatitis, smoking, family history and genetic mutations. Of thepancreatic cases identified in our cohort, we will have the opportunity to lookfor risk factors such as these and correlate them with biomarker changesidentified through the OGT technology. The combination of the breadth of theOGT technology with our unique serum biobank provides a real opportunity tosignificantly advance the field of early pancreatic cancer diagnosis andscreening."
 
John Anson notes that, "A common challenge in discoveringnovel cancer biomarkers is the availability of well-characterized samples forthe disease area of interest." Abcodia's serum biobank appears to solve thatchallenge. It was derived from a major clinical trial at University CollegeLondon (UCL) called the U.K. Collaborative Trial for Ovarian Cancer Screening(UKCTOCS), initiated in 2000 by Profs. Ian Jacobs and Usha Menon. Serum wascollected from 200,000 individuals to allow the measurement of CA125 as one ofthe markers in that trial. The remaining serum was frozen.
 
 
Abcodia has now secured exclusive rights to use that serumbiobank in partnerships with both commercial organizations and academicinstitutions, for the purpose of advancing diagnostics for early diagnosis andscreening.
 
 
"From our 200,000 cohort, over 300 individuals havedeveloped pancreatic cancer during the past 10 years," Barnes notes. "Inaddition, over 600 subjects have developed pancreatitis or similar inflammatoryconditions of the pancreas, which we intend to use for specificity studies." 
 
OGT was founded by Dr. Edwin Southern, recipient of the 2005Lasker Award for his invention of what has come to be known as Southernblotting for DNA analysis. Since then, analogously named Northern (RNA) andWestern (protein) blotting techniques have been developed by others.

Lloyd Dunlap

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