Worldwide, over 450,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year and, in many places, the incidence rate of oral cancer is increasing. Oral cancer detection is estimated to be a $5bn market, which is projected to grow over 6.8% annually through 2024. In the US, two out of three oral cancer patients have malignant disease by the time of diagnosis, leading to five-year survival rates of less than 33%. When oral cancer is detected early, those survival rates are over 80%.
Despite the easy accessibility of the mouth, many cases of oral cancer aren’t picked up on until later stages. Lesions often do not form in the mouth and prompt further investigation until late in the disease, by which point they are accompanied by extensive invasion and infiltration of important local structures leading to tongue immobility, disturbance of motor or sensory innervation and metastatic spread to lymph nodes that further reduces the chances of survival.
Medical imaging companies Theragnostics, which develops molecular radiotherapy for imaging and treating a broad range of cancers, and Summit Biomedical Imaging, a clinical-stage company that develops products for diagnostic medical imaging, have now announced a global license agreement for intellectual property (IP), which could boost the development of Summit’s oral cancer detection technology.
Theragnostics chief operating officer Dr Gareth Smith said: “Theragnostics is pleased to work with Summit Biomedical Imaging for the development of PARP inhibitor-based diagnostics. Leveraging their expertise in oncological diagnostics applications is an important step forward in implementing our strategy of bringing novel diagnostic agents and new targeted therapies to cancer patients.”
Detecting oral tumours with fluorescence technology
Specifically, the IP agreement will contribute to Summit’s global freedom to operate in the diagnostic field of certain fluorescence-labelled PARP (Poly ADP-Ribose Polymerase) inhibitors, using intellectual property owned by Theragnostics.
PARP is a class of enzymes involved in normal cellular processes, including DNA damage repair. PARP activity and expression are up-regulated in tumour cells, meaning PARP inhibitors block the action of PARP by binding to PARP enzymes. Summit’s first target for this technology is the in vivo detection of oral cancer, a large and growing market.
Summit’s cancer detection technology uses a PARPi-FL, a PARP inhibitor with a fluorescence tag. PARPi-FL combines the ability to bind to PARP with a fluorescence tag to specifically target cancers that over-express PARP. By targeting PARP, PARPi-FL brings an optical imaging agent to the cancer, enabling direct detection of tumours with significantly greater selectivity and sensitivity as compared to competing technologies. Summit seeks to enable earlier diagnosis of oral cancer using PARPi-FL and fluorescence imaging in the oral cavity.
Earlier diagnosis could cut costs and save lives
The company is seeking to enable earlier diagnosis of oral cancers using PARPi-FL as a screening procedure. Earlier detection enables earlier intervention, corresponding with saving lives and lower treatment costs. If successful, the company’s technology has the potential to save over $1bn in patient and insurance costs annually. With global incidence of oral cancer spreading and the corresponding diagnostics market projected to grow significantly, PARPi-FL could prove to be a very savvy investment if successful in Phase III trials.
PARPi-FL is also being investigated for ex vivo diagnosis of oral cancer, cervical cancer, oesophageal cancer and breast cancer.
Summit Biomedical Imaging CEO Andrew Riley said: “This agreement with Theragnostics bolsters Summit Biomedical Imaging’s IP position with regards to PARPi-FL and will allow Summit Biomedical Imaging to focus on developing the oral cancer detection application for this molecule. This will enable Summit Biomedical Imaging to bring new diagnostic solutions to market for detecting cancer earlier and improving patient outcomes.”