Quanterix Uses Fiber Optics to Find Cancer Protein, Nears New Funding Round

5/27/10

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detect and predict that there’s going to be [a recurrence],” Walt said, “and a man would undergo radiation or chemotherapy at a much earlier stage than he would if he had to wait until his PSA levels rebounded to much higher levels.”

Quanterix plans to a larger clinical trial to actually show whether the levels of PSAs they are finding could be used to predict prostate cancer recurrence, Walt said. The company wants to begin marketing its prostate cancer test as soon as 2011. Its initial commercial plan would require physicians to send their samples to a central lab at Quanterix for analysis. The second test in the firm’s pipeline is being designed to spot trace proteins in the blood that are thought to be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

David Walt, Tufts chemistry professor

David Walt, Tufts chemistry professor

The startup’s technology marries materials used in traditional diagnostics known as ELISA with advances in fiber optics technology. The standard test materials are antibodies and enzymes that attach to proteins linked to disease. While Quanterix uses some of those same reagents to bind to disease proteins, it puts them into tens of thousands of tiny wells in bunched optical fibers. This second step enables the firm to use imaging cameras to count each molecule from a blood sample at the same time.

Dave Okrongly, the Quanterix’s CEO, said in an e-mail that his 20-person firm plans to raise a second round of funding this coming summer or fall, which will probably be similar to the company’s $15 million first round. The second round of financing, he said, is likely to include existing and new backers. (Okrongly spoke to Luke earlier this year about his big plans for the startup.)

The company is finalizing the design of its next prostate cancer trial, which will likely include blood samples from hundreds of patients and begin in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Okrongly. He expects to be able to present results of the study in the first half of 2011 at conferences and publish them later in the year.

About 100,000 American men per year have surgery to partially or completely remove their cancer-ridden prostate glands. According to the National Institutes of Health, prostate cancer killed 27,360 men and was newly diagnosed in 192,280 others last year. While it’s bad news for the patients, this creates a large potential market for Quanterix’s prostate cancer test, if the firm can prove in its planned clinical study that its technology can do a better job than standard diagnostics in predicting a cancer relapse.

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