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ASU research to improve cancer detection in women

October 25, 2013

Researchers at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute have developed a series of biomarker technologies for use in the early detection of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and HPV.

Provista Diagnostics, Inc., a leading molecular diagnostics company focused on developing and commercializing proprietary diagnostic, prognostic and predictive tests for cancers affecting women, has licensed these technologies for evaluation and potentially further development.

Biomarkers are substances within the body that indicate the presence of a disease before the individual shows other symptoms. Researchers in the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics at the Biodesign Institute at ASU are working to identify and test new biomarkers for a wide range of conditions based on individual patient profiles. The technologies licensed by Provista were primarily developed in the labs of professors Joshua LaBaer and Karen Anderson.

"Provista is working to develop oncology-related diagnostics in areas of significant unmet need," said David E. Reese, Provista's president and CEO. "We are very familiar with the excellent research being done at ASU in this area, as both Doctors LaBaer and Anderson are members of our Scientific Advisory Board. We look forward to testing these technologies together with our own proprietary assays to determine both clinical and market viability."

Early detection of cancer significantly improves treatment outcomes and survivability. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is about 94 percent. However, less than one in five cases is detected in an early stage, because symptoms are typically minimal and invasive surgery is required for diagnosis. To date, no screening biomarkers are recommended for the general population in detecting ovarian cancer.

Breast cancer remains a common and devastating health problem, despite recent advances in early detection and treatment. The disease will strike almost one in eight U.S. women over her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

"With the advent of molecularly-targeted therapeutics, biomarkers that are associated with biological subtypes of cancer may be useful for predicting responses to therapeutic interventions," said Joshua LaBaer, director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics at the Biodesign Institute. "If we can significantly advance the early detection of these cancers, we can save thousands of lives each year."

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics – the latest addition to the Biodesign Institute – was established with an eye toward overcoming the health care challenges posed by disease variance. The center is developing new diagnostic tools to pinpoint the molecular manifestations of disease based on individual patient profiles. The strategy promises not only to improve therapeutic care, but also to greatly reduce treatment costs by allowing for early disease detection.

The licensing agreement was brokered by Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), ASU's technology transfer organization. ASU, through the activities of AzTE, is annually one of the top-performing U.S. universities in terms of intellectual property inputs (inventions disclosed by ASU researchers) and outputs (licensing deals and start-ups) relative to the size of the university's research enterprise. Start-up companies that have licensed ASU IP have attracted almost $400 million in financing from venture capital firms and other investors.