Quanterix Uses Fiber Optics to Find Cancer Protein, Nears New Funding Round
Both academics and industry have long sought ways to spot cancer in patients before it becomes deadly. This week, Cambridge, MA-based Quanterix said its single-molecule detection system could potentially find signs of prostate cancer recurrence lurking in the blood years before traditional lab tests.
The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, showed that Quanterix’s technology detected proteins in the blood called prostate-specific antigens (PSA) with 1,700-times greater sensitivity than existing diagnostics. The protein is a common biological marker in testing for prostate cancer. Beyond these findings, the company claims that its technology could be used to measure virtually all proteins in the blood that are linked to diseases, some of which are difficult or impossible to quantify with existing antibody-based blood tests.
Quanterix, founded in 2007, has previously garnered plenty of attention from venture capitalists and the science press. David Walt, the Tufts University chemistry professor who invented the startup’s technology, hit pay dirt with his previous company, San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN), which dominates the market for high-speed gene sequencing instruments. With Walt’s new technology, and his track record of success, Quanterix scooped up $15 million in a Series A round of funding in 2008 from big-name investors such as Arch Venture Partners, Bain Capital Ventures, and Flagship Ventures.
Quanterix’s new study refines its pedigree further. The firm’s single-molecule array system found trace amounts of proteins linked to prostate cancer in blood samples from which standard tests for the proteins found nothing, according to the company. All 30 of the samples in the firm’s study were from men who had surgery to remove cancerous prostate tissue, Walt told me in an interview. Men who undergo such surgeries typically get their blood checked for PSAs for years in order to detect whether their prostate cancer has returned, but those existing blood tests have limited sensitivity, and signs that the cancer has come back can go unnoticed for years, until it is too late.
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