The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020 about 21,750 women in the United States will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and about 13,940 women will die from ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer. One of the reasons why ovarian cancer is so lethal is because the symptoms, particularly in the early stages, often are not acute or intense, and can be easily overlooked. Since there is currently no screening test that can detect early-stage ovarian cancer, women are often diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease.
To address this issue, Captis Biotech has developed a breakthrough in new diagnostic technology that could potentially change the way ovarian cancer is diagnosed, providing a reliable way to detect early stages of the disease. Robert Strongin, a chemistry professor at Portland State University and CEO of Captis Biotech, has developed synthetic polymers that allow researchers to use lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) as a means to measure disease presence, a goal that—until now—has eluded researchers.
Captis takes an innovative approach to biomarkers, the biological molecules that change when certain diseases are present. Biomarkers can measure and track disease progression or detect disease presence. Instead of large biomolecules, such as antibodies or enzymes, Captis has focused on LPA, a small lipid involved in many physiological processes. In many disease states, LPA appears at abnormal levels and has shown promise as a biomarker for many diseases, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Cardiovascular disease, and Multiple sclerosis. Still, the utility of LPA has been notoriously difficult to handle.
"There have been a lot of problems using LPA as biomarkers because it's unstable in plasma samples. The LPA levels can fluctuate after the sample is taken, which is why it has frequently generated false positives and false negatives," said Strongin.
Captis addressed the need for a reliable LPA measurement process combined with two inventions: a polymer designed to trap LPA and fluorescent dyes, which make it easily quantifiable. This technology enables automated removal of LPA from plasma or serum, generates non-destructive processing with more than 95% purity, and is consistent with various LPA subspecies. That makes it the first reliable method for LPA measurement and a promising tool for researchers.
"By making this material that selectively traps LPA from plasma, we can overcome these issues that have plagued the field for many years now," said Strongin.
According to Strongin, the next milestone for Captis Biotech will be producing simple kits for researchers in independent labs, along with their best suggestions concerning the methodology with which to use it.
Although the company is still an upstart, it has already received multiple grants supporting their work. In 2019, Captis Biotech received $357,000 from the National Institutes of Health and was a recipient of the Facilitator Fund award from Portland State's University Venture Development Fund. In April of 2020, Captis Biotech received an investment from Ideaship, a patent leveraged venture capital firm that provides patent development support for early-stage startups. In addition to these startup finances, each of Captis' main products—the polymer and the fluorescent dyes—have received scientific support through peer-reviewed publications.
This new technology from Captis Biotechnologies addresses an unmet medical need: an accurate method for detecting and treating deadly diseases. LPA has been a known indicator of disease presence, but this is the first significant technology that can quantify LPA for reliable diagnostic treatment. Since LPA has not yet been explored as a biomarker, Strongin expects researchers will find broad applications for the testing kits. Captis Biotech has opened up a new frontier of diagnostic procedures.