A Life Saved?
Conventional tests had failed to detect his father's prostate cancer, but his "liquid biopsy" technology did.
When Professor Richard Otte, 61, got an annual PSA screening test for prostate cancer the results came back negative. Shortly thereafter, he reached out to his son Gabriel, an entrepreneur and computational biologist, to let him know the good news.
Skeptical of the Results
His son was skeptical as he knew that the PSA test sometimes doesn't pick up on the cancer, even when it's present.
So he asked his father to take a test that was developed by Gabriel's own biotech startup, FREENOME The test uses advanced computing to unearth biological signatures or signs of cancer from DNA fragments in the blood.
Once the approach has been peer-reviewed the cancer-detection test method will become available, scheduled for late 2016.
Sure enough, Richard's doctors found evidence of tumours from a standard tissue-based biopsy. He was diagnosed with a fairly aggressive form of prostate cancer, and immediately began treatment. He's currently awaiting a follow-up appointment to determine if he's in remission.
Are Regular PSA Test Sufficient?
Prostate cancer affects 1 in 7 men, but some patients with the more high-risk form of the disease don't get diagnosed until it's too late.
One challenge is that the cancer often presents with no symptoms in the earlier stages, and in cases where patients opt for a PSA, false negatives are fairly common. In Australia that will equate to more than 2,000 deaths in 2016.
The "Liquid Biopsy"
Freenome is one of a growing number biotech companies taking advantage of the decades-old scientific discovery that microscopic amounts of DNA from cancerous cells are traceable in the blood.
Rather than relying on tissue biopsies, which are invasive and expensive, the new liquid biopsy tests only require a small blood sample.
When looking for cancers finding something at the right time can make a difference between life and death.
One approach is looking for new ways to detect and diagnose early-stage cancers (farther away), the other is developing tests that oncologists can use to understand how an individual patient's cancer is progressing and treat it accordingly (available soon).
While early stage detection is like looking for a needle in a haystack, patients have a better survival rate if diagnosed early.
In the coming year the advent of these tests at a price point that will be coming online. The initial focus will be on cancers that are the most aggressive, where finding something at the right time can make a difference between life and death.