In the News

Commercial agreement aims to increase early detection of oesophageal cancer

QIMR Berghofer has signed an exclusive worldwide licence agreement with Proteomics International Laboratories Ltd allowing the company to develop and commercialise a simple blood test for early detection of the most common form of oesophageal cancer.

Oesophageal adenocarcinoma affects the section of the digestive tract just above the stomach and is potentially fatal when diagnosed late. Unfortunately, early symptoms are vague and often masked by chronic acid reflux which means patients don’t realise something is wrong until the disease is at a late stage and symptoms become more severe and obvious. Currently, oesophageal cancer diagnosis involves the invasive and expensive specialist medical procedure of upper endoscopy.

Proteomics International will use blood biomarkers discovered by QIMR Berghofer scientists to develop and commercialise the simple blood test, after a joint study of more than 300 patients earlier this year validated research findings.

The blood test will target patients with Barrett’s oesophagus which is a non-cancerous condition that increases the risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Associate Professor Michelle Hill, the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Precision and Systems Biomedicine Laboratory, who led the discovery of the biomarkers, said the agreement could lead to better screening for oesophageal cancer.

“It is incredibly rewarding to see our research work in the laboratory lead to an agreement like this with Proteomics International that could make such a difference for patients and the health system,” Associate Professor Hill said.

“We envisaged that blood test-based screening will allow better use of health resources by identifying the right patients for endoscopy while reducing unnecessary procedures. Most importantly, once found, the pre-cancerous cells and early-stage oesophageal adenocarcinoma can be effectively treated, thereby improving survival from this deadly cancer.”

Proteomics International managing director Dr Richard Lipscombe said oesophageal cancer is an area of significant unmet medical need.

“At-risk patients are currently screened with invasive and costly endoscopy procedures. Instead, this panel of biomarkers—or protein ‘fingerprints’ in the blood—can detect the early stages of oesophageal adenocarcinoma which we hope to do using a simple blood test,” Dr Lipscombe said.

The licence agreement comes after the two organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2020 to improve detection of oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

Proteomics International will now undertake additional studies to confirm the diagnostic performance of the potential new blood test, which will take approximately six months.

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO Professor Fabienne Mackay said the signing of the licence agreement with Proteomics International was a great example of scientists and companies working together to improve health outcomes.

“At QIMR Berghofer we actively encourage and highly value our collaborations with our commercial partners such as Proteomics International, because we know this can help take our impactful medical research from the bench to the bedside to achieve better health for patients,” Professor Mackay said.