The earlier cancer is detected, the better the odds of a cure. It’s as simple as that.
And while it’s not so simple to find cancerous cells before they have multiplied enough to be noticeable, it might not be long before healthcare workers can start stocking an American-Israeli bio-tech company’s diagnostic kit that can detect increased risk for breast cancer.
Earlier this summer, a subsidiary of Ramat Gan-based Micromedic Technologies submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval to begin testing the kit’s effectiveness in clinical use. Already, clinical studies at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem show that the kit achieves a nearly perfect rate of detection sensitivity.
This significant advance in the war on cancer is predicated on a fairly new ability to find abnormal genes or proteins called biomarkers.
Identifying bio-markers for early detection
“When we see a tumor, it is usually too late to be completely cured,” Micromedic’s former CEO David Solomon (55) explains. “The only way to find cancer before the body starts to generate a tumor is by looking for specific molecules – biomarkers – indicating something is wrong although there still is no clinical evidence.
“If we can link these ‘early’ molecules and the eventual medical event, we will have promising results enabling early detection and leading to increased survival rates.”
Identifying biomarkers has only been possible in the past few years, thanks to data coming out of the landmark Human Genome Project. This information offers scientists an unprecedented glimpse into the codes embedded in every cell of the body. Best of all, these abnormal molecules can be detected non-invasively, by sampling blood, urine, saliva or body tissue.
In addition to anticipated clinical trials in the United States, the company also plans to begin trials in Europe next year. Meanwhile, at the end of August another Micromedic subsidiary signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Israel’s Clalit Health Services to begin clinical trials of a biomarker for the early detection of colon cancer. The first trial will test 200 samples taken from volunteers at two Israeli medical centers.
Cancer is not the only condition Micromedic researchers are targeting. The publicly traded company, founded in 2005, has four separately licensed subsidiaries. Each is developing diagnostic kits for specific diseases: Cancer of the colon, breast, head and neck, in addition to diabetes.
“These are the most critical medical conditions; the global epidemics,” says Solomon, who was replaced as CEO in October by Orna Pollack.
Unique in Israeli molecular diagnostics
Three of Micromedic’s R&D projects are being carried out in the US. Research into head and neck cancer biomarkers, for example, is conducted in collaboration with the University of Florida.
Additional studies are conducted by scientists at Israeli academic and research centers such as Hadassah, Tel Aviv Medical Center, and The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The company’s headquarters near Tel Aviv handles licensing and commercializing.
If Micromedic’s kits hit the market, the potential is huge not just for preventing serious conditions from advancing, or vanquishing them once they’ve started, but also for more precise and individualized methods of monitoring and treatment.
Solomon contends that Micromedic is unique among several other Israeli companies in the biomarker field. One atypical aspect is that its research in the US is funded with Israeli, rather than American money.
“We are the only public company focusing on pioneering molecular diagnostics in Israel,” he continues. “Some of the others have one molecule here and there. And the ratio of how much of our project is being carried out in the US is unusual.”
Minimizing risks within the industry
The company’s chief scientist is Nadir Arber, professor of medicine and gastroenterology at Tel Aviv University and director of the Integrated Cancer Prevention Center at Tel Aviv Medical Center. Arber also heads the GI oncology unit in the department of gastroenterology at Tel Aviv Medical Center.
Solomon is a former business consultant for companies such as IBM, Scitex, Bank Discount, Bank Leumi, Qualcomm and Israel Aircraft Industries. He has written several books about the business side of the biotech industry. An English translation of his “Biomedics: From Research to Market” is expected to reach the American market in a few months.
“Our strategy was to build up a specific business model offering tight risk analyses regarding our projects, because it is a risky environment,” he says. “By carefully choosing the products to build Micromedic’s portfolio, we have minimized risk within our industry. Now, our new funding will give us serious backing to continue and achieve our goals.”
These developments closely followed Micromedic’s NIS 11.8 million secondary offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.