Diagnostics, Startups

INVEST Pitch Perfect winner spotlight: Amplified Sciences targets early pancreatic cancer detection

Amplified Sciences emerged as the winner of the diagnostics track for the MedCity INVEST conference’s Pitch Perfect contest with PanCystPro, the test it is developing to address the problems encountered when determining whether pancreatic cysts are cancerous.

Although people often speak of “cancer” as if it is one disease, it is in fact a whole spectrum of diseases, which vary considerably not only in terms of which tissue they affect, but also in terms of how treatable they are and their lethality. Of the various cancers, one of the deadliest is that of the pancreas. That means early detection is key.

Last week, a company that has embarked on an effort to develop such an early detection system, West Lafayette, Indiana-based Amplified Sciences, was named winner for the diagnostics track of the MedCity INVEST Pitch Perfect contest for its PanCystPro pancreatic cancer detection assay. Founded in 2016, the company’s intellectual property was licensed from Purdue University, which is also in West Lafayette.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

“We are focused on a current unmet medical need and a very deadly cancer,” CEO Diana Caldwell said in a phone interview. “Unfortunately, because pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed in the late stage of disease, usually Stage IV, the therapeutics don’t work very well, so we’re trying to find solutions for early detection.”

According to the Cancer Patients Alliance, the median survival for untreated pancreatic cancer from the time of diagnosis is about three and a half months, or eight months with good treatments, though long-term survivors are not unheard of. Nevertheless, it is among the worst cancers in terms of median survival, according to the group. The American Cancer Society estimates that around 57,600 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year.

In her Pitch Perfect presentation, Caldwell presented a scenario in which a patient goes to a doctor for stomach problem, thus leading the doctor to order a CAT scan, which shows a cyst on the pancreas. In turn, the patient becomes fearful after learning that pancreatic cysts are connected to pancreatic cancer, meaning surgery could be necessary. Nevertheless, high false-positive and false-negative rates remain a problem.

To address the issue, Amplified Sciences’ approach involves developing a “rule-out” test that requires a small amount of pancreatic cyst fluid, Caldwell noted in her presentation, adding that the company has already conducted Phase I testing indicating its test is more accurate than those already on the market. The company’s technology is nevertheless disease-state agnostic, and it plans to expand into other cancers for which early detection is key, as well as areas outside of oncology like chronic kidney disease.

The company began its seed funding round last year and currently has $1.1 million in the bank, with $100,000 still open and the possibility to go up to $1.2 million with oversubscription. The seed round provides it with a little more than two years of runway, and it is also working on obtaining government small business grants.

“We like to say we’ve got really strong proof-of-concept data, so we’re trying to find solutions for early detection,” Caldwell said in the phone interview. “We’ve delivered results using our chemistry platform. This isn’t just a theoretical idea – we’ve done it on the bench.”

Photo: MedCity News