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One method to rule them all
LONDON—Two companies with a long history of collaboration are teaming up to tackle a new challenge: pioneering a novel approach toward diagnostic testing for age-related diseases. Rather than adding to the wide array of tests currently available for specific diseases, XRGenomics and Affymetrix aim to devise a single method of testing that will provide a broad profile of a patient that assesses their vulnerability to a range of important age-related conditions.
The new diagnostic tests will involve simultaneously assessing multiple genetic markers for age-related diseases using Affymetrix’s GeneChip U133 Plus 2.0 array, which provides coverage of the Human Genome U133 Set as well as 6,500 additional genes.
XRGenomics Chief Scientific Officer Jamie Timmons tells DDNews that the partnership builds on his company’s longtime use of Affymetrix technology to develop gene expression-based signatures that enable translational research and biomarker test development for age-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related diseases.
“This is a major step up in the scope of our collaboration,” he says. “At XRGenomics, we are focused on scaling up our diagnostics to cope with the potential of running tens of thousands of samples per day. It is also critical for our work to retain a global RNA profiling approach, as this both ensures the quality and underpins the novel strategy we take.”
The value of improving diagnostic testing for age-related diseases is underscored by estimates that such conditions account for roughly half of global healthcare spending. Reining in overall healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes will likely require new methods of diagnostic testing that are more scalable, more accurate and more cost-effective.
“There is a clear need to address the enormous challenge of managing complex age-related diseases that face healthcare systems globally,” said Dan St. Louis, senior vice president of the Expression Business Unit at Affymetrix, in a written statement. “Our GeneChip U133 Plus 2.0 array used by XRGenomics, particularly in its high-throughput automated format, continues to serve as a proven platform for clinical and translational researchers who need to analyze the expression profile of large clinical cohorts with the accuracy, reproducibility, speed and cost-effectiveness required to successfully develop complex RNA-based tests for clinical utility.”
Timmons notes that current methods of diagnostic testing are solely oriented towards diagnosing specific disorders. “Aging and lifestyle disease interact to determine disease burden, and yet until now there have been no reliable methods to score an individual on how well he or she is aging,” Timmons tells DDNews. Moreover, even tests used for individual diseases, such as diabetes, fall short in some important ways, Timmons claims. He notes, for example, that simple biochemical tests for diabetes cannot be used reliably to reveal prediabetes, while more sophisticated tests for diabetes are extremely costly and time-consuming. “With our prediabetes approach, we can drill down to whether it is the liver or the muscle that is displaying the most dysfunction, and this can of course prioritize what advice the patient might get,” he says.
Affymetrix has helped numerous companies use its technology to develop clinical tests. The firm recently announced a partnership with sports genetics firm Athletigen Technologies to develop a genotyping platform for a sports-related DNA analysis service. Timmons says that such experience makes Affymetrix an especially well-suited partner in the new endeavor.
“Affymetrix brings critical manufacturing experience as well as in-house informatics experience that help us plan our long-term business development and address technical challenges around the optimal selection of gene detection probe design,” he says.
XRGenomics expects that by next spring it will achieve results for the current phase of its project and begin attracting investment to fund further development of the various assays involved in its approach. While the new approach to testing is intended to produce a variety of drug-response predictor scores from the same raw data each, Timmons notes that each individual diagnostic involved must still be approached individually. “In this sense, the strategy is to seek collaboration with ongoing relevant clinical trials as well as develop an offering that would be a laboratory diagnostic guide and a referral tool for primary physicians,” he says.