Israel’s Rosetta Genomics deciphers cancer’s origins

Rosetta’s Ronen Tamir: In the future, diagnostics will become a bigger market for understanding disease origin.Before doctors can treat cancer, they need to know its origin. With more than 200 kinds of cancer, treatment and the best possible chances of …

Rosetta’s Ronen Tamir: In the future, diagnostics will become a bigger market for understanding disease origin.Before doctors can treat cancer, they need to know its origin. With more than 200 kinds of cancer, treatment and the best possible chances of recovery depend greatly on a doctor’s ability to make a speedy and accurate diagnosis.

An Israeli company, Rosetta Genomics, may have found a way to decode cancer’s origin in the genes to help make cancer diagnosis more accurate, and subsequently, make the treatment more effective. This is especially important in the most mysterious kinds of cancer, where doctors can’t locate where the primary tumor began.

Looking at tiny RNA molecules in the human genome, which are known as microRNA, Rosetta has developed a test that could provide a short cut for cancer diagnostics, treatment and recovery. The efficacy of the test has been published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Biotechnology.

In the study, the company shows the accuracy of the test for diagnosing CUP – a type of cancer known as “cancer of unknown primary”, of which 70,000 patients in the US are diagnosed with each year.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, about two to five percent of all cancers diagnosed in the US are CUP. In two out of three times, however, Rosetta was able to effectively determine the type of cancer using their test.

Speaking with ISRAEL21c, Ronen Tamir, Rosetta’s executive VP for marketing and communication, explains that despite advances in medicine, the tools used to diagnose some cancers, such as differentiating between lung cancers, haven’t changed much in the last 100 years.

He also believes that in the future, diagnostics will become a bigger market for understanding disease origin, and thus treating diseases, than drugs based on therapies alone.

“Rosetta has entered a sub-division of cancer diagnostics which is leading to targeted therapies. Even with lung cancer – if doctors treat it with one type of therapy it can harm a patient,” says Tamir.

But, with the discovery of microRNAs, which are non-coding genetic material found in “junk” DNA (about 90 percent of our genetic code previously believed to be useless), the world of science and the understanding of how cancer operates has changed drastically, explains Tamir.

“Scientists have learned that microRNAs are actually controlling the genes that control proteins. They can be considered the ‘master switch’ of the body,” he says.

Likened to the tuning switches on a mixing board in a recording studio, microRNAs are every day proving to be more important in our understanding of cancer, mainly because microRNAs are expressed differently in various pathological conditions.

“This research demonstrates the tremendous potential of microRNAs as effective biomarkers, and is a significant step towards the development of the first microRNA-based diagnostic tests,” said Amir Avniel, president and CEO of Rosetta, in a company statement.

Listed on the NASDAQ, Rosetta was founded in 2000, and is based in both Jersey City in the US and Rehovot, Israel. The company is working on commercializing a portfolio of cancer and women’s health diagnostic tests.

Collaborating with Dr. Mahesh Mansukhani, associate director of the Molecular Pathology Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, Rosetta has two other tests in the pipeline, which may be released as early as this year for use in the US.

The first is a test that can detect the difference between two types of lung cancer – squamous from non-squamous – and a test that can determine if a person has mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer that develops after exposure to asbestos.

Despite policy and education, asbestos exposure is still a problem in the US. During the 911 tragedy, survivors were exposed to asbestos as the building collapsed and the dust settled.

And mechanics who work with brakes, are routinely exposed to the material, explains Tamir, who worked for some of the world’s largest multinational drug companies, before returning to his Israeli roots at Rosetta.

“We are very proud at Rosetta Genomics,” he says. “We are being recognized worldwide as the powerhouse for microRNA research and commercialization.”

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About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman is an award-winning environment news publisher who founded Green Prophet (www.greenprophet.com) to connect North Americans to issues that matter in the Middle East. She is the CEO of the Internet of Things startup flux, a company that is making social grow tools for urban farmers everywhere (www.fluxiot.com). Karin can be reached at karin (at) fluxiot.com.