Calgary-made blood test could revolutionize breast cancer detection

CALGARY – Detecting cancer as early as possible is important to achieving the best possible treatment success. This year, more than 800 women in Calgary will undergo a liquid (blood) biopsy, alongside their regular mammogram as part of an international clinical trial designed to test a new way of detecting breast cancer.

Alberta Innovates, the Alberta Cancer Foundation and DynaLIFE have partnered to fund $1.2 million for this next stage of evaluation for Syantra, the University of Calgary spin-off company that created a non-invasive blood test and is developing it for commercialization within the next two years. Syantra has partnered with the UCalgary for the Calgary arm of the clinical study.

Last year Alberta Innovates, the Alberta Cancer Foundation and DynaLIFE joined together to help commercialize Alberta-owned innovations that will detect cancer earlier and improve treatment for Albertans. The $2.5 million challenge is part of Alberta Innovates’ Alberta Small Business Innovation and Research Initiative (ASBIRI) program.

“Our ASBIRI award has provided critical funding to allow establishment of clinical studies in Alberta and the UK for investigation of test performance in real-world settings,” says Bob Shepherd, president of Syantra Inc. “The data obtained through this work will be used to support regulatory applications, and promote making the test available to an initial group of patients in a short amount of time. We are grateful to the support of the Alberta Government, ASBIRI and its funding partners.”

Dr. Kristina Rinker, lead of UCalgary’s Charbonneau Cancer Institute’s Early Cancer Detection Initiative and associate professor in the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education, helped develop the test through her research program.

“I saw an opportunity to create a new way of helping people get diagnosed earlier, with faster results leading to earlier treatment,” says Rinker who co-founded Syantra with her husband, Bob Shepherd.

Syantra, the second recipient announced in this challenge, says the new funds will allow them to focus on expanding the scope of the test with a goal of initiating applications in breast cancer screening within two to three years. Results from this study will also generate the data that is necessary to provide the test to the market. Through this program, blood samples are being collected in Calgary, Oklahoma City, and Manchester UK, with new sites planned for Edmonton, Vancouver and Seoul, South Korea.

“Alberta Innovates is pleased to have played a role in bringing Syantra, DynaLIFE, the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the University of Calgary together to improve diagnostics for breast cancer in Alberta,” says Garth Likes, Director of ASBIRI at Alberta Innovates. “Innovative ways of doing business require outside-the-box thinking and the ASBIRI program is an excellent example where Alberta-based companies can test their innovations in real-world applications, with the hope of accelerating the innovation into the marketplace–or in this case, into health care.”

“We are so pleased to be part of this initiative that recognizes the importance of detecting cancer earlier and improving the chance of treatment success,” says Alberta Cancer Foundation interim CEO, Ellen Wright Terrill. “The work being done by Syantra is patient focused with the ultimate goal of implementing this test within the health-care system so Albertans and those around the world can benefit.”

“The key to a sustainable health system is the courage to embrace constant change and improvement,” says DynaLIFE President and CEO Jason Pincock. “Finding and implementing new health innovation is a challenge for all Albertans. DynaLIFE is very pleased to support research across our province like Syantra in Calgary who are looking to change the future of breast cancer detection and treatment. We are proud partners of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates, and Syantra in the goal of delivering this research to Albertans. As a private sector partner we can leverage our skills and resources with those of our public partners to rapidly bring innovation from the bench to the bedside. ”

The clinical study is currently enrolling women recruitment between 25 and 80 years old with no previous history of cancer.

Currently, the test is being developed to supplement the information provided to women with dense breast tissue or other factors that complicate interpretation of mammography results. Blood test outcomes will provide a strong indication of who may need an immediate biopsy and who may benefit from entering an imaging surveillance program. Future expansion of the study will enable the test to supplement mammography for a wide range of women, with screening and pre-screening applications being a primary goal, particularly for women who are younger than 50 and/or who have dense breast tissue.

For media inquiries, contact:

Phoebe Dey
VP Communications and Marketing
Alberta Cancer Foundation
Cell: (780)700-6120

Dwayne Brunner
Manager, Media Relations
Alberta Innovates
Cell: (587)572-4091