Early diagnosis is directly related to survival and future quality of life in most cases involving cancer patients. For pancreatic cancer, where survival rates are particularly low, the ability to establish early diagnosis would in many cases be the difference between life and death. And it needs to be done before any symptoms occur, while it is still possible to operate with a successful outcome.
For the Swedish molecular diagnostics company Immunovia, the development of reliable diagnostic tools for complex diseases in areas of clinical practice where currently no solutions exist to key issues is the focus. And the company is very close to a major breakthrough.
Thanks to the work of Immunovia’s founders and researchers at CREATE Health Translational Cancer Centre in Lund, an announcement regarding the discovery of a new biomarker signature that identifies pancreatic cancer in blood samples was recently made. Immunovia CEO Mats Grahn provides us with some clues as to what may happen next.
The next challenge
Clinicians and researchers agree on the point that early diagnosis is crucial to the outcome of any cancer treatment. For pancreatic cancer it is of utmost importance, as this type of cancer is easily overlooked due to lack of perceptible symptoms.
“Today, a common scenario involves detection of pancreatic cancer at a very late stage, which in most cases rules out operation. Studies indicate that if the cancer can be detected and operated on at an earlier stage, the survival rates may increase dramatically, maybe to up over 50 percent. Currently, the five-year survival rate is only around 3 – 4 percent”.
Mats Grahn confirms that Immunovia develops a test that may be used for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
“Early on in the development, we knew that the most important aspect would be to develop a test that was easy to use and easy to analyse. Blood samples would be preferable, and this formed the basis for our early diagnostic test. However, since we are not able to screen the entire world population, the next challenge is to identify which groups to test”.
Identifying possible targets
There are several indicators that can be used to determine who may be under increased risk to develop pancreatic cancer. Mats Grahn explains that the patients have been divided into two large groups which also contain several subgroups:
“Generally we can say that there is one group where the risk is linked to hereditary aspects and one where the risk is linked to the development of diabetes later on in life, mainly involving people at the age of around 50 years or older”.
Both groups including subgroups should be tested regularly as part of a proactive care system. In the western world, the hereditary group consists of around 200 000 individuals and many, particularly in US, are easy to find through specific pancreatic cancer registries.
The second group is more complex, it consists of the three million people who are added to the patients with diabetes yearly in the modern world’s diabetic explosion. These individuals would benefit from regular testing for pancreatic cancer during the three years following their diabetes diagnosis.
Solving a global problem
The test developed by Immunovia uses a biomarker signature to identify pancreatic cancer in the bloodstream. The markers can be applied to other diseases as well, such as the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
The Immunovia biomarker signature platform may also be used to develop tests for other types of cancer, but Mats Grahn underlines that the core focus remains on pancreatic cancer. He concludes:
“Our goal is to solve a large global problem and possibly increase the survival chances substantially of people who today have very low chances when they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is why Immunovia was founded and this is how we mean to continue”.