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BioDetego's technology predicts a cancer's return

For cancer patients, their doctors and loved ones, there is no question more pressing than whether the disease will return -- and whether chemotherapy is necessary. BioDetego, a "virtual resident" at the University City Science Center, is aiming squarely at those wrenching uncertainties with a novel testing platform that aims to predict which cancer patients will experience a recurrence and benefit from additional treatment.
Based on research by CEO David Zuzga and his mentor Dr. Giovanni Mario Pitari at Thomas Jefferson University, BioDetego was founded in 2012. The company raised seed funds in 2014 and, over the past year, has established a research collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and completed a pilot clinical study in colon cancer.
"Following surgery to remove a tumor, the biggest questions for patients and their doctors are, 'Will the cancer come back"?’ and 'Is chemotherapy necessary?'" says Zuzga. "The answers likely determine who receives chemotherapy and who does not, but unfortunately, these are among the hardest questions to answer with the current standard of care."
To address this need, BioDetego has identified biomarkers in tumors that are closely associated with how aggressive cancers are. As Zuzga explains, these biomarkers describe the function of a protein called vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein or VASP. VASP has a very specific and unique biologic function in tumors. It converts signals that the tumor receives from its environment into physical force, allowing the tumor cell to move throughout the body and ultimately cause metastases.
BioDetego's testing platform VASPfore determines whether the VASP mechanism in tumors is functional.

"It’s a bit like seeing whether a transmission is in gear or in neutral," explains Zuzga. "A tumor with the VASP mechanism in gear is highly invasive and these patients are much more likely to experience a relapse and benefit from chemotherapy. Conversely, if the VASP mechanism is in neutral or non-functional, a relapse is very unlikely and these patients may avoid harmful unnecessary chemotherapy."
The company's initial focus is on colorectal cancer -- the VASPfore colorectal cancer test could be available to patients in as little as three years after completion of two clinical validation studies. The potential market is large, with 80,000 patients diagnosed each year in the U.S. with stage II or early stage III disease. That number grows to 200,000 with European countries and Australia, where BioDetego has filed patent applications.
BioDetego is also investigating VASPfore’s applicability to other forms of cancer including breast, prostate, kidney and bladder.

"Ultimately, we believe there is an opportunity for the VASPfore platform to broadly disrupt the paradigm of cancer prognosis and chemotherapy treatment decision making," enthuses Zuzga.
The startup joined the Science Center as a virtual resident in 2014, affording it a physical address and access to the Center’s community and resources. As BioDetego grows, the company hopes to set up operations in the Port Business Incubator

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
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