28 May 2014
A discovery which could make Liverpool the centre of a revolution in the war against cancer has received the latest Merseyside Innovation Award.
The judging panel awarded the May prize to ProKyma in recognition of the company’s potentially lifesaving research into personalised blood tests for cancer. Operated by CEO Damian Bond and chairman Chris Stanley, ProKyma is working with the University of Liverpool’s department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine and the Institute of aging and Chronic disease to develop a personalised blood test to measure the level of cancer cells in a patient’s blood.
The concept and the implications are so disruptive that ProKyma has been backed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to the tune of £0.5 million. This allowed the company to secure further funding from the NW Fund Biomedical in 2013, locate in the Liverpool Science Park.
“A lot of the research which is trying to detect cancer cells in the blood at the moment is working to try to find a way to make cancer cells stick to probes in order to identify them in blood,” said Damian.
“But the cells are very hard to detect and are often masked by millions of white blood cells, so it is really a case of finding a needle in a haystack. We have approached the problem from a different angle.
“By using antibodies to make the white blood cells stick to the probe, we can effectively remove the haystack by removing the plentiful white blood cells. By doing this, we know that the cells left behind are cancer cells.”
The research is important because if successful the project, which is currently still in the research phase, will enable doctors to determine in real time whether a course of treatment is working and whether a cancer has been completely eradicated from the body. It may also allow the development of more mild cancer treatments.
But more significantly, we hope that it will result in improved cancer survival rates. “Around 50% of people with cancer today will die within 5 years,” said Damian. “But most of the time the primary tumor is not what kills a patient, it is the secondary tumor that implants elsewhere in the body as a result of these cancerous cells in the blood. Our aim is to use our technology to allow doctors to identify whether a cancer has returned before any visible indicators or symptoms present themselves in order to prevent deadly secondary cancers implanting.
"So we see two applications – to monitor the patient during therapy to tailor the treatment and thereafter a monthly blood test to monitor for the cancer returning."
Once the research and testing phase is complete ProKyma plans to offer the test to pharmaceutical companies to use as part of their screening process for cancer drug candidates before the firm builds a manufacturing base in Merseyside.