UK Company Secures Funds to Detect Epigenetic Cancer Signs

A University of Oxford spinout focusing on genomics will benefit from a seed round of $11.4 billion. It aims at improving cancer detection by measuring epigenetic changes to tumor DNA circulating in a patient’s blood. The oversubscribed seed funding round was pioneered by Oxford Sciences Innovation. It is a local early-stage investment enterprise connected to the University of Oxford.

Base Genomics will make use of technology developed at the University of Oxford called TAPS. TAPS is responsible for detecting epigenetic methylation of DNA at a single-base level. DNA methylation is a method in which cells can switch off specific genes without changing the DNA’s base code. DNA methylation can also be disrupted by different types of cancer. That way, physicians can find early signs of disease by screening for abnormally methylated DNA shed into the bloodstream by solid tumors.

DNA methylation is the most efficient biomarker for early disease detection. A firm called Grail secured $1.5 billion to come up with a blood test for early-stage cancer detection, and after testing different methods in three years it came to the conclusion that detecting DNA methylation generates efficient results, according to Oliver Waterhouse, Co-founder, and CEO of Base Genomics. According to Waterhouse, DNA methylation is one of the most stable source of epigenetic information (a vital trait in diagnostics).

Until today, the incisive reading of the epigenetic code has been complicated. Ancient methods destroyed the sample, making it unusable for subsequent sequencing of the genome and limiting clinical sensitivity. The Base Genomics TAPS method is very efficient in reading these codes in a precise way while keeping the sample intact. It therefore allows physicians to perform more tests with the same amount of DNA sample.

Early-stage cancer identification through non-invasive liquid biopsies, such as urine or blood samples, is the Holy Grail in cancer diagnostics. Moreover, sampling a suspected tumor directly can be stressful and time-consuming for patients. However, biomarkers such as DNA and proteins linked to cancer can now easily be detected from extracted blood samples through this new technology. Additionally, liquid biopsies are becoming new gold mines in the detection of disease.

Base Genomics is however not only limited to liquid blood biopsies; the company is also looking to expand its diagnostics beyond cancer. Waterhouse, the CEO of Base Genomics, adds that they can use their new technology on saliva and urine. They have also been talking with other collaborators on using their technology on cerebrospinal fluid samples in diagnosing different neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Other companies other than Base Genomics are monitoring the epigenetic signs of the disease. Bio-techne, a US-based company, is one of the major players in the liquid biopsy field and it has come up with a non-invasive liquid biopsy for the detection of prostate cancer. The method focuses on analyzing the RNA found in exosomes in urine, and is capable of discriminating between high-grade and low-grade prostate cancer. Furthermore, another firm in the UK called Oxford Biodynamics, has been applying an epigenetic method that looks at the structure of the chromosomes to diagnose Huntington’s disease.

All these exciting developments mean that biomedical companies like Genprex Inc. (NASDAQ: GNPX) are in good company since lots of entities are taking part in making diagnostics more accurate and timely.

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