Ann Arbor’s Everist Genomics Develops New Tests for Cancer Risk

There’s a long-held belief that, if caught early, colorectal cancer is almost always treatable through surgery alone. But according to Ann Arbor-based Everist Genomics, nearly one in three Stage 2 colon cancer patients who have surgery alone, without adding chemotherapy, will suffer a recurrence of their cancer. And more than 80 percent of those patients, Everist says, will die from their disease.

Those statistics inspired Everist Genomics to develop OncoDefender-CRC, a molecular diagnostic test that identifies patients at high risk of cancer recurrence. The test became commercially available for the first time last month.

“The essence of personalized medicine is to diagnose a problem before there are noticeable symptoms,” says Alex Charlton (pictured above), executive vice-chairman of Everist Genomics. “If we’re treating patients very early, we save lives and it costs much less.”

The scientific team at Everist Genomics identified research which revealed that patients with high-risk Stage 2 colorectal tumors can benefit greatly from adjuvant therapy, with three-year disease-free survival rates increasing from 84.7 percent in patients who did not receive chemotherapy to 96.4 percent in those who did. Improvements in five-year overall survival rates increased from 86.4 percent to over 98 percent.

These discoveries led the scientists at Everist Genomics to begin a two-year development program to find out the combination of genes and their expression levels that would identify patients with these high-risk early stage colorectal cancer tumors. Everist Genomics integrated molecular diagnostics with its proprietary learning algorithm, Evolver. The computer-based model analyzed and evaluated possible combinations of genes and gene expression levels to identify the genomic culprits. Out of 25,000 genes, there are five specific genes tied to colorectal cancer recurrence. Knowing how those genes behave, Charlton says, represents a huge breakthrough in preventative treatment.

“The key to effective personalized medicine and utilizing genomics is you have to know which genes represent the risk of disease in the first place,” Charlton says. “It’s easier said than done. It’s an exercise in expert detective process.”

Everist just received regulatory approval for a second molecular test called OncoDefender-MMR (MMR stands for “mismatched repair”), which will be able to predict a person’s risk of getting cancer in the first place. Armed with that kind of information, Charlton says, patients would be able to make significant lifestyle changes that could decrease their cancer risk.

“What cancer is, at the very simplest level, is an overproduction of certain cells in a certain part of the body,” Charlton says. “The OncoDefender-MMR test will detect whether the body’s ability to create new cells is damaged or not performing as it should—whether the mismatch repair process has happened. It’s a very reliable way of identifying an individual’s risk of getting cancer.”

A third Everist product, CardioDefender, is the world’s first smartphone-based, real-time heart arrhythmia monitor, which enables physicians to keep tabs on a patient’s heart rhythm and receive automated alerts from anywhere in the world. Charlton says that product will launch internationally in January.

Everist was founded two years ago by the Everist family, who remain primary shareholders. The Everists have been in business since 1876, and they made their fortune building infrastructure such as railroads and ports. The family first diversified into energy, and then into health care.

Charlton says the Everist family sees an enormous amount of potential in genomic-based therapeutics. To that end, there are currently 53 people working at Everist Genomics’ Ann Arbor headquarters, and Everist expects to add 10 to 15 more employees in the first half of 2012 to take advantage of the growing field of personalized medicine.

“Genomic diagnostics and therapeutics are transforming medical outcomes,” Charlton says. “We’re helping physicians save lives, but we’re also reducing the cost of cancer care.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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