Israeli company Zetiq Technologies makes it simple. If the cells in your tissue test stain green they are normal, if they stain red they are cancerous. As Dr. Adi Elkeles, the company’s CEO acknowledges: “This is a very simple discrimination that can be analyzed even by a layman. It’s a very accurate tool that can dramatically increase the sensitivity of cancer diagnosis.”
This simplicity and clarity is the key to Zetiq’s strength. CellDetect, the company’s new diagnostic tool for cancer cells, is, according to Elkeles, both easier to use and more accurate than existing cancer diagnostic tools.
The technology offers differential detection of cancer cells through pan-tumor staining. Already proven successful in pre-clinical trials, CellDetect uses a metabolic signature, developed using clinical tissue samples, to distinguish between normal and malignant cells.
In conventional diagnostics, a large cell population will often contain only a very small number of malignant cells. Using traditional diagnostic techniques these cells are often undetected because they are so scarce in number, or because the distinction between the cells and the background is so minor.
Using CellDetect, the difference is clear. “It’s like moving from a black and white TV to color,” says Ami Eyal, the CEO of parent company Bio-Light Life Science Investments. “We bring a visualization tool into the field that will revolutionize the way people do diagnosis based on looking at cells. You can’t miss the cells, they are red.”
Another advantage over traditional tests and biopsies, says Elkeles, is the fact that the test can be used to detect a wide range of different cancers – no other diagnostic tool can do this he asserts – and in addition it can be used for drug development. “This has great clinical and business value,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
The company’s first application for this platform technology is a diagnostic tool for cervical cancer. About 10,000 women are diagnosed with this disease in the US every year, and about 3,700 women die of it, according to statistics from the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.
In the US alone, more than 60 million PAP smears are carried out each year to test for cervical cancer, a market worth more than $1 billion. If the disease is detected early enough, it is curable. If detected at a late stage, however, it kills.
The problem, says Elkeles, is that current diagnostic screening tools like the PAP smear, have a high percentage of false negative and false positive results.
In February, Zetiq received regulatory approval to conduct a clinical trial in Israel to test the company’s cancer diagnostic technology for detecting cervical cancer. Results of this study are expected during the second half of the year. Further clinical trials will then be conducted abroad, probably before the end of this year.
Aside from this, the company is working on diagnostic tools for other types of cancer. “Our technology can stain most, if not all, cancer cells,” says Elkeles. “We can tailor the right test for different types of cancer.”
Further clinical trials will begin later this year, though Elkeles declines to give details.
The company also plans to develop the technology for scientists working in research and drug discovery. For drug discovery purposes, the metabolic signature can be used to detect whether a chemical or biological compound has changed the phenotype of cell lines from cancerous to normal, or vice versa.
Zetiq, which is headquartered in Ramat Gan, was founded six years ago and is based on research by Israeli scientists. The company is now a fully owned subsidiary of Bio-light, a management and holding company specializing in biomedical technologies.
Bio-Light, a Tel Aviv Stock Exchange company, has three other biotech companies in its portfolio – OBEcure, allergica, IOPtima
Zetiq employs five and outsources the rest of its work in Israel and abroad. Bio-light also provides many services. “We don’t need a big infrastructure,” says Elkeles.
“Zetiq has a genius technology that in a very simple manner can stain cancerous cells red,” says Eyal. “It has tremendous clinical value.”
“There is a huge need for simple tools that can screen and diagnose all types of cancer,” says Elkeles. “Early detection can make all the difference between life and death. Hundreds of millions of people will need this technology. It offers a major breakthrough in the field of cancer diagnostics.”