Diagnostics, Startups

Owlstone Medical collaboration with AstraZeneca illustrates applications of breath biopsy kit

It is the latest in a series of developments for diagnostics business Owlstone Medical, which recently brought its breath biopsy kits to market.

reCIVA breath sampler from Owlstone Medical

Owlstone Medical, the Cambridge, UK-based diagnostics spinoff of  Owlstone, has formed a partnership with pharma company AstraZeneca. The partnership is designed to support the use of Owlstone Medical to use breath to identify biomarkers relevant to asthma and COPD. It is the latest in a series of developments for diagnostics business Owlstone Medical, which recently brought its breath biopsy kits to market.

The goal of the collaboration with AstraZeneca is to figure out whether some patients would benefit from different dosages of medication to treat their COPD and asthma.

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In an interview last year, Owlstone Medical Billy Boyle co-founder and CEO said that what makes the company’s technology unique is that users can program what they’re trying to detect just by changing the software. Breath contains about a thousand volatile organic compounds and while most them are simply byproducts of respiration, certain diseases produce metabolites associated with them.

Last month, Owlstone Medical made its breath biopsy kits commercially available to academic, clinical and pharmaceutical researchers to discover and validate breath-based biomarkers.

Boyle highlighted some of the varied applications of its kits in clinical trials, including for cancer treatment:

  • GlaxoSmithKline’s LuCID Lung Cancer Trial is the most advanced of these trials and has been recruiting up to 4,000 patients across 26 clinical sites in multiple countries since last year.
  • The InTERCEPT study is using Owlstone Medical’s kits for early detection of colorectal cancer. The study is done in collaboration with Warwick University, recruiting up to 1,400 patients and analyzing volatile organic compounds in urine and breath.
  • The STRATA Asthma Stratification study is funded by an Innovate UK grant, and aims to use breath-based biomarkers as a way to select the best treatment for patients with severe asthma.
  • The PAN Cancer Trial is using the kit to evaluate early detection of eight different cancer types in breath (bladder, breast, head and neck, kidney, oesophageal, pancreatic and prostate cancers and brain tumors). The trial is being conducted in collaboration with Cancer Research UK.

Owlstone Medical is far from the only company using breath to get more insight on disease and treatment. At University of Michigan Dr. Kevin Ward, executive director of the Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care and professor of emergency medicine and biomedical engineering, partnered with Xudong Fan, associate director of MCIRCC and professor of biomedical engineering, to develop a device that recognizes and analyzes breathomic signatures to guide diagnosis of lung cancer with a goal of detecting the disease at an earlier stage. What is different about the Michigan device is that it could be used at the bedside.

Menssana Research in Newark, New Jersey developed a breath test device and is evaluating the device in clinical studies for applications spanning lung cancer, breast cancer, heart transplant rejection, radiation exposure, and pulmonary tuberculosis.

Massachusetts startup New England Breath Technologies is applying its breathalyzer technology to diabetes to check blood-sugar levels.