The early diagnostics and prevention of cancer are becoming increasingly important as the healthcare sector faces growing staff shortages and rising medication costs. Timely and correct diagnoses save lives and help keep healthcare costs under control. Predica Diagnostics is therefore developing a platform for molecular precision diagnoses. To begin with, the company is developing a test – based on cervical smear analysis – to detect the dangerous early stages of cervical cancer with a much higher degree of accuracy than current methods are capable of. The RadboudUMC spinoff also sees major opportunities for the future to predict what type of medication would be most effective for cancer patients, which helps prevent costly overtreatment. CEO Marco de Boer talks about the company’s innovation and ambitions.
At the moment, a cervical smear is performed by a general practitioner or by a woman herself. The sample is sent to a lab, where a PCR test is performed to check for the presence of potentially dangerous HPV. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer, among other things. The virus is found in circa 10% of all cervical smears. In such cases, the sample is examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells that may be indicative of early-stage cervical cancer. Based on the results, the woman in question is referred to a hospital for further examination and possibly treatment. In roughly half the cases, no further action is necessary because there is nothing to worry about.
Based on twenty-five years of research
Marco: “With our platform technology, we can check for the presence of active HPV and malignant cells and see what genes are active and what mutations these contain – all in one go. Dr. William Leenders has come up with and developed this technique based on twenty-five years of research at the RadboudUMC. We are trying to get our test accepted into the current healthcare system in order to make an important contribution to women’s health by improving the early diagnostics and prevention of cervical cancer. We can offer women faster and more accurate test results.”
Better treatment plans
That speed and precision are important. One in ten women is told that a potentially dangerous HPV was found in their tissue sample. In about half of those, abnormal cells are also found. “These women are then subjected to further tests and exams,” Marco says. “Every year, two to three hundred women die of cervical cancer in the Netherlands. That is bizarre, because this type of cancer is caused by a virus and can therefore be prevented through vaccination and regular screening. Our technology makes it possible to predict far more accurately who actually has to be referred to a hospital for further examination. That is because we measure how actively HPV infections progress and whether these infections have already pushed cells to become cancerous. We do this by measuring a very wide range of biological characteristics in a single test.”
Partnerships and challenges
Predica Diagnostics is now an official spinoff of RadboudUMC and their technology has been patented. They are currently working to bring their first product for cervical cancer to market. “For a diagnostics company, bringing that first product to market is always a challenge,” Marco explains. “First, you have to raise enough capital for research and development. Fortunately, we received a lot of support. We got an initial investment from OostNL, which is helping us grow. We are also looking for partnerships. For example, we have received Eurostars subsidy together with a university in Berlin and another German company. We also received an investment from TTT. That was a real boost for us, because we still regularly talk to the people at TTT who invested in us. This also gets us into gatherings about pitching, financing, certification, etcetera. In that sense, TTT opened a lot of doors for us.”
Marco expects it will be another year or two before they are ready to launch their product on the market. “We are still in the validation stage, so we need medical samples for our clinical validation studies. Luckily, we can get these samples through our partnership with Radboud. We are currently developing our first prototype test, which we will use to raise more money during the next round of investments. That will allow us to get our technology certified and ready for market. Next, we want to explore the possibility of analyzing tumor samples in the same way, so our platform can also be used for other types of cancer. For example, that would allow us to use our molecular precision diagnoses to predict with far greater accuracy what new precision medication is most effective. This paves the way for optimally effective personalized treatments. What is most important to us is to develop something based on the unmet needs of the market. We do not want to develop something that no one wants or needs. We want to offer real value and work together with patients, physicians and other stakeholders in the healthcare system.”