Pancreatic cancer biomarkers sought
December 2011
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


OXFORD, U.K.óOxford Gene Technology (OGT), which provides clinical genetics and diagnostic solutions for application in molecular medicine, will work with Abcodia Ltd., a specialist company engaged in the validation and discovery of biomarkers for cancer and other age-related diseases, to improve the early detection of pancreatic cancer. As part of this collaboration, Abcodia will provide access to its large prospective serum biobank comprising samples taken from individuals up to seven years before the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.   
OGT will apply its functional protein array platform and its Genefficiency microRNA profiling array to identify pancreatic cancer-specific biomarkers that can be used as diagnostic indicators of early-stage pancreatic cancer. Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.  
"The information that we will obtain from the two platforms will be different," notes Dr. John Anson, vice president of biomarker discovery at OGT. "From the protein array work, we are focused on identifying a panel of biomarkers based on the presence of pancreatic cancer-specific autoantibodies in the serum. This approach relies on the body's own immune response to detect changes occurring at the protein level during the disease process. From the miRNA profiling, we plan to identify specific miRNAs that can discriminate between blood samples from patients with disease and healthy controls. In this case, we are focused on the changes that may occur at the level of control of disease-specific gene expression. These two data sets will be generated and interrogated independently, but the data can be combined to look for biomarker panels that could include both protein and miRNA markers."  
At present, the prognosis for someone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is poor. The limitations of current diagnostic techniques mean that often the cancer is not detected until after it has spread. The identification of sensitive and specific biomarkers that allow early detection of pancreatic cancer could therefore significantly increase survival rates.  
"Multiple populations could benefit from any diagnostic product identified through this collaboration," says Abcodia CEO Dr. Julie Barnes. "There are a number of emerging risk factors for pancreatic cancer, which may prompt the use of a screening test. These include previous incidence of pancreatitis, smoking, family history and genetic mutations. Of the pancreatic cases identified in our cohort, we will have the opportunity to look for risk factors such as these and correlate them with biomarker changes identified through the OGT technology. The combination of the breadth of the OGT technology with our unique serum biobank provides a real opportunity to significantly advance the field of early pancreatic cancer diagnosis and screening."
John Anson notes that, "A common challenge in discovering novel cancer biomarkers is the availability of well-characterized samples for the disease area of interest." Abcodia's serum biobank appears to solve that challenge. It was derived from a major clinical trial at University College London (UCL) called the U.K. Collaborative Trial for Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS), initiated in 2000 by Profs. Ian Jacobs and Usha Menon. Serum was collected from 200,000 individuals to allow the measurement of CA125 as one of the markers in that trial. The remaining serum was frozen.  
Abcodia has now secured exclusive rights to use that serum biobank in partnerships with both commercial organizations and academic institutions, for the purpose of advancing diagnostics for early diagnosis and screening.  
"From our 200,000 cohort, over 300 individuals have developed pancreatic cancer during the past 10 years," Barnes notes. "In addition, over 600 subjects have developed pancreatitis or similar inflammatory conditions of the pancreas, which we intend to use for specificity studies."
OGT was founded by Dr. Edwin Southern, recipient of the 2005 Lasker Award for his invention of what has come to be known as Southern blotting for DNA analysis. Since then, analogously named Northern (RNA) and Western (protein) blotting techniques have been developed by others.
Code: E121115

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