Epic Sciences received a phase II contract from the SBIR program supported by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. The contract will fund the further development of an assay to identify and characterize circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in lung cancer patients. The results of this contract are expected to provide a basis for the development of new cancer diagnostic products.

Epic will use the SBIR funds to further develop and clinically validate a new diagnostic test to detect and characterize lung cancer using a blood-based test based on the company’s rare-cell detection platform technology.

“A blood test for lung cancer could provide a better tolerated, less risky, and more effective strategy for diagnosing lung cancer patients,” said Dr. Nelson. “Beyond finding cancer cells in the blood, the Epic test is also designed to molecularly characterize circulating tumor cells to guide personalize treatment options. Because a blood test can be performed repeatedly, we are also investigating the ability to monitor treatment effectiveness and disease status.

The research grant entitled, “Circulating Tumor Cell Enumeration Product,” builds upon the successful completion of a Phase I grant of the same name, which was previously awarded to Epic. The phase I and II grants total approximately $1.2 million. In Phase I, Epic developed a clinically useful and commercially relevant method for identifying and enumerating CTCs. In phase II, Epic will extend this work to finalize the diagnostic test and validate it clinically in patients with suspected lung cancer.

In October 2012, separately, scientists at the U.K.’s University of York identified a blood protein biomarker that could help diagnose early-stage lung cancer and potentially represent a therapeutic target. The protein is a stable variant of the nuclear matrix-associated DNA replication factor Ciz1. The team found that a truncated version of the protein is expressed by lung tumor cells, but not normal lung tissue surrounding the tumor, and can be detected in the blood.

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