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Improving Cancer Diagnostics

Kelly Lea meets William Finch, Managing Director of Oncascan Ltd, a company that’s developing a unique blood test for cancer with potential to transform the lives of patients, clinicians and health service providers.

With a degree in biochemistry from Oxford University and an impressive CV deliberately shaped around the diagnostics and life science industry, William Finch has reached an exciting chapter in his career that could see the company he co-owns make a huge difference to patients worldwide.

Oncascan was founded in 2012 when David Squire, an entrepreneur, accountant and Oxford University physics graduate, attended a presentation given by Bradford University at a technology fair.

The university’s work revealed the genome of lymphocytes of cancer patients, even at an early stage of the disease, to be subtly different from that of healthy individuals.  They developed the initial format of what has become known as the lymphocyte genome sensitivity (LGS) test, based on measuring this difference.

Subsequently, Squire teamed-up with Finch to negotiate a licensing agreement with Bradford University and Oncascan was born.  The company now holds an exclusive worldwide licence to the patents and know-how associated with the lymphocyte genome sensitivity invention.

Talking about Oncascan’s journey since 2012, Finch explains: “We decided to focus on bowel cancer initially as the test should reduce the number of patients undergoing unnecessary colonoscopies.  In addition to benefitting the patients, it will allow substantial cost savings for the NHS.”

“If colonoscopies were restricted to those with an LGS score above an appropriate cut off, a large number of unnecessary interventions could be avoided whilst still ensuring that patients who would benefit from the procedure were so treated.”

Using the LGS test to assist with diagnosis of prostate cancer has a similar outcome by reducing the number of prostate biopsies required, an unpleasant experience that carries risk of infection.

In February 2014, Oncascan was awarded an SBRI Healthcare Phase 1 development contract funded by NHS England to carry out an evaluation of the predictive power of the LGS test on a cohort of patients referred for bowel cancer investigation at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

Finch explains: “The Phase 1 evaluation was extremely positive showing the LGS test has the potential to realise our ambitions.  A similar study began in April, funded by Innovate UK, to evaluate the effectiveness of the LGS test on patients referred by their GP with suspected prostate cancer.”

Automation is key

The positive evaluations conducted to date have provided Oncascan with the evidence needed to secure additional funding in order to work on automating the LGS test process.

Finch explains: “We have now moved to a Phase 2 contract with the SBRI, which started from January this year as we need to focus our efforts on ensuring the LGS test can be carried out reliably on a large scale.”

In February 2015, Oncascan moved to Cherwell Innovation Centre located at Upper Heyford near Bicester and managed by Oxford Innovation, to help drive the project forward.  The centre benefits from The DiagnOx Laboratory, a Category 2 microbiology lab with a fully equipped cell-culture facility in addition to use of a variety of equipment.

Finch continues: “Cherwell Innovation Centre provided us with a cost-effective and simple way to establish our own lab with the ability to extend or reduce our stay at relatively short notice.  We benefit from being based in a supportive environment with access to key equipment and there is good comradery with people working in similar fields to provide inspiration and sanity checks!”

Finch and Squire are working with specialist companies to help take Oncascan to the next level. Their immediate aim is to break the LGS test down to two or three modules with a goal of demonstrating a modular device as the next step to reaching a fully automated system.

Finch concludes: “We hope to have a full robotic device ready for the market in 2018 having completed the necessary regulatory requirements. The feedback we have received from clinicians to date about the scope of the LGS test has been fantastic.  We are going to have a significant impact on the lives of people who are suspected of having bowel or prostate cancer, and will eventually apply the LGS test to other applications.”

For further information about Oncascan, visit: oncascan.com