Ones to Watch in Precision Medicine 2021
By Bruntwood SciTech
Precision Medicine is about putting the individual patient at the centre of research, diagnosis and treatment. It’s about using an individual's unique genetic profile and DNA to guide bespoke healthcare decisions to provide the best outcomes, moving away from the one size fits all approach.
Set to transform the future of treatments in areas such as cancer and degenerative diseases, groundbreaking research is already underway across the globe, and nowhere is this more true than in the North of England, with specialist facilities such as Citylabs in Manchester and Alderley Park in Cheshire.
These campuses, part of the Bruntwood SciTech network, are bringing together scientists, clinicians, researchers and the NHS to propel precision medicine technologies into our frontline healthcare and treatments of today.
So who are the pioneering researchers and companies at Alderley Park, Citylabs and further afield that are shaping the future of our healthcare? We recap on Bionow’s recent Precision Medicine Conference to shine a light on what’s happening right now and what’s to come....
Who? Yourgene Health
Where? Citylabs 1.0, Manchester
With offices all around the world and its European headquarters at Citylabs 1.0 in Manchester, Yourgene Health is a leading molecular diagnostics manufacturer that is developing, manufacturing and commercialising simple and accurate molecular diagnostic solutions across reproductive health, precision medicine and infectious diseases.
Clinical Product Manager, Louisa Ive, spoke about the importance of one of Yourgene’s genotyping tests - the DPYD assay. The DPYD assay is a simple genotyping test that can identify patients with Dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD) enzyme deficiency.
Louisa said: “Patients that have a DPD deficiency have an increased risk of severe or even fatal toxicity from specific chemotherapy agents used to treat certain cancers. Therefore, implementation of DPD deficiency screening by genotyping allows for more accurate predictions of toxicity and chemotherapeutic response. In doing so, treatment can be altered and tailored to the patient for the most safe and effective outcomes.’’
More recently, Yourgene Health announced a new contract with Cytox Ltd, a collaborative partner to run Cytox’s genetic test, genoSCORE™-LAB, which can predict the risk of an individual’s cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.
With modifiable factors accounting for more than 30% of the risk for Alzheimer’s, the adoption of behaviours to monitor and treat factors such as hypertension, elevated cholesterol and smoking, is likely to bring benefit to the time of onset and rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.
Where? Citylabs 2.0, Manchester
Global leaders in precision diagnostics, QIAGEN serve over 500,000 customers around the globe to provide companion diagnostics that can detect clinically relevant genetic abnormalities to provide insights that guide clinical decision-making about diseases like cancer.
With its UK base and Global Centre for Precision Medicine at the brand new Citylabs 2.0 in Manchester, Associate Director Gillian Dalgliesh said: “QIAGEN is based in Manchester but we also collaborate closely with our colleagues and pharma partners in Germany and the US to develop unmatched precision diagnostics, with several approved companion diagnostic devices now in the market.’’
Having recently announced an extension of it's partnership with INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, QIAGEN is next set to develop liquid biopsy-based companion diagnostic products based on next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to complement INOVIO’s therapies.
This collaboration will co-develop a diagnostic test that identifies women who are most likely to benefit from clinical use of INOVIO's immunotherapy (VGX-3100) to treat advanced cervical dysplasia associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
QIAGEN’s bioinformatic expertise will further increase the predictive power of INOVIO’s preliminary biomarker signature – paving the way for the potential to become the first non-surgical treatment for advanced pre-cancerous cervical lesions associated with the virus (HPV-16 and HPV-18).
Where? Alderley Park, Cheshire
Located at Alderley Park, Kinomica is a provider of a cell signalling profiling service called KScan® to the pharmaceutical industry.
KScan® allows users to rank the activity of enzymes, called Kinases, in a tissue like a tumour, which add a phosphate group onto proteins and turn those proteins from their inactive form, to an active form. Preclinical data shows that the KScan® service can predict a drug response much more accurately than using genomic data.
CEO Jane Theaker said: “This isn’t a surprise as most drugs don’t work at the level of the DNA or RNA, they work at the level of the proteins, specifically the activated proteins. What Kinomica does is totally unique. We can analyse over 10,000 phosphorylated proteins in one experiment.’’
“The traditional way of analysing phosphorylated proteins relies on laborious “one-at-a-time” antibody testing, such as ELISA assays or immunohistochemistry. We can analyse all the activated proteins at once and give insights that almost perfectly correlate to drug response.’’
Kinomica will soon offer KScan® as part of clinical trials by opening up a new laboratory at Alderley Park. Kinomica recently received grant funding from Innovate UK to further test the use of KScan® to predict the response to a drug called Midostaurin in AML (acute myeloid leukaemia) patients.
Who? Medicines Discovery Catapult
Where? Alderley Park, Cheshire
Also located at Alderley Park, Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) enables innovative life science companies and scientists to reshape medicines discovery in the UK by helping to industrialise and drive the adoption of new techniques and technologies.
Not only has MDC been responsible for the operation of one of the official UK Gov Lighthouse Labs at Alderley Park, providing essential Covid-19 testing, but most recently, MDC and Xerion Healthcare won funding to begin a groundbreaking project that will revolutionise radiotherapy for inoperable and difficult to treat tumours. This work will target cancerous cells more selectively and precisely, enabling a reduced dose of radiation, which subsequently will lower the toxic effects a patient receives as a result.
Duygu Yilmaz, Senior Scientist said: “This targeted approach will use Xerion Healthcare’s non-toxic radiosensitizers to heighten the cells’ sensitivity to radiotherapy, increasing the likelihood of successful treatment while reducing the often devastating side effects.’’
Who? Christine Schmidt (BBSRC David Phillips Fellow and Dean's Prize Early Career Researcher)
Where? University of Manchester
It’s no secret that The University of Manchester has a long history of making world-leading discoveries and founding new technologies, and this reputation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Speaking at the Bionow Precision Medicine Conference, Researcher Christine Schmidt talked about new pioneering research in the treatment of Ovarian Cancer.
Christine said: “Ovarian cancer is extremely difficult to treat since the fallopian tubes are difficult to reach, narrow and delicate. There are currently no non-invasive or easily accessible methods to find early detections of ovarian cancer.’’
This has led to researchers at The University of Manchester looking towards the engineering of human sperm to address these challenges. With the ability and adaptability to travel up the fallopian tube, ‘sperm bots’ could be used in future as a targeted, low toxicity precision medicine tool.
Christine said: “We’re looking into ways that these sperm bots could target the area and deliver drugs, using specific antibodies to make this as precise as possible whilst reducing the need for invasive and often damaging ovarian cancer treatment.’’
Where? San Diego, USA
Further afield, at the Bionow Precision Medicine Conference we heard from Matthew Nelson, Senior Director of Companion Diagnostic Partnering at Illumina based in San Diego. Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function.
It's innovative next-generation sequencing (NGS) platforms deliver exceptional data quality and accuracy at a massive scale. This NGS tool is helping to fill the gaps in data provided by traditional DNA sequencing technologies by offering a much more in-depth analysis and quick turn around time.
Matthew Nelson said: “It’s all about trying to select the right patient at the right time with the right therapy. To do this you need to layer up data about the patient as well as provide a quick turnaround. NGS technology changes the kinds of questions scientists can ask and answer since it can rapidly sequence whole genomes, sequence target regions, sequence cancer samples to study rare somatic variants, tumor subclones, and more.’’
Also focused on rapid turnaround times is global diagnostic tools developer, QuantuMDx. With its HQ in Newcastle, QuantuMDx also works with healthcare providers in the United States, Asia, Australasia, Europe and Africa to provide accessible diagnostic technologies to detect diseases earlier and help to eradicate transmission.
QuantuMDx’s Q-POC™ technology is a rapid DNA/RNA analyser which compresses a molecular diagnostic lab into an affordable, simple-to-use and portable, point of care system. Q-POC™ offers true sample-to-answer analysis in minutes, empowering frontline health workers in decentralised settings.
Jonathan O'Halloran, CEO QuantuMDx, said: “The silver lining of this pandemic is that it has shown the importance and possibility of rapid diagnostic tests and results, such as those seen with the rapid lateral flow covid tests.
“We can see that diagnostic tests specificity and quick results have risen to the forefront of our medicine and healthcare. Our Q-POC technology is a molecular diagnostic sampler device that runs at speed similar to the Covid lateral flow tests.’’