It has been regularly demonstrated in recent decades that human breath contains elements that could be incorporated into clinical laboratory tests, so the decision to use this “breath biopsy” test in a therapeutic drug trial will be closely watched
When a major pharma company pays attention to a breath test, implications for clinical laboratories are often forthcoming. Such may be the case with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The global healthcare company has selected Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology for use in its Phase II clinical trial of danirixin (DNX), a respiratory drug under development by GSK for treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an Owlstone Medical news release announced.
Anatomic pathologists and medical laboratory leaders will be intrigued by GSK’s integration of breath-based specimens in a clinical trial of a respiratory drug. The partners in the trial aim to analyze breath samples to better understand the drug’s treatment effects and to discover personalized medicine (AKA, precision medicine) opportunities.
GSK (NYSE:GSK), headquartered in the UK but with a large presence in the US, researches and develops pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and other consumer health products.
Owlstone Medical, a diagnostic company, is developing a breathalyzer for disease and says it is on a mission to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs. Dark Daily previously reported on Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy platform. The Cambridge, England-based company has raised significant funding ($23.5 million) and already garnered credible cancer trial collaborators including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Now, Owlstone Medical has brought its breath analysis technology to bear on chronic disease outside of cancer diagnostics development. A pharmaporum article called Owlstone’s Medical’s work with GSK an “additional boost of confidence” in the company’s technology, as well as a means for revenue.
GSK Studying Future Treatments for Respiratory Diseases
COPD affects about 700 million people worldwide, an increase of about 65% since 1990, GSK pointed out. In September 2017, GSK presented respiratory disease data and its pipeline medications at the European Respiratory Society in Milan, Italy. Included was information on danirixin (an oral CXCR2 antagonist), which is part of the company’s focus on COPD disease modification, according to a GSK news release.
“Each of our studies sets the bar for our future research and innovation,” noted Neil Barnes, MA Cantab, FRCP, FCCP(Hon), Vice President, Global Franchise Medical Head, GSK Respiratory, in the GSK press release.
Clinical Trial Aimed at Identifying the ‘Right’ Patients
With Owlstone Medical’s breathalyzer, GSK plans to explore how volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can help identify patients who will benefit most from the company’s medications, as well as evaluate Danirixin’s effects. A critical element of personalized medicine.
“It’s part of our efforts to identify the right patient for the right treatment,” said Ruth Tal-Singer, PhD, GSK’s Vice President of Medicine Development Leader and Senior Fellow, Respiratory Research and Development, in the Owlstone Medical news release.
VOCs in breath will be captured in a non-invasive way from patients who wear Owlstone Medical’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler, which, according to Owlstone Medical, has CE-mark clearance, a certification noting conformity with European health and safety standards. The VOCs breath samples will then be sent to Owlstone Medical’s lab for high-sensitivity analysis.
“Non-invasive Breath Biopsy can establish a role in precision medicine applications such as patient stratification and monitoring treatment response,” said Billy Boyle, Owlstone Medical’s co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.
VOC Biomarkers in Respiratory Disease
VOC profiles can be characteristic of COPD as well as other respiratory diseases including asthma, tuberculosis, and cystic fibrosis, reported Science/Business.
According to Owlstone Medical’s Website, VOCs are gaseous molecules produced by the human body’s metabolism that are suitable for Breath Biopsy. Their research suggests that exhaled breath reflects molecular processes responsible for chronic inflammation. Thus, VOCs captured through Breath Biopsy offer insight into respiratory disease biomarkers.
Breath also includes VOCs that originate from circulation, which can provide information on a patient’s response to medications.
How the Breath Biopsy Platform Works
Owlstone Medical’s platform relies on its patented Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) technology, which “has the ability to rapidly monitor a broad range of VOC biomarkers from breath, urine and other bodily fluids with high sensitivity and selectivity,” according to the company’s website. During the process:
- Gases are exchanged between circulating blood and inhaled fresh air in the lungs;
- VOC biomarkers pass from the circulation system into the lungs along with oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases;
- Exhaled breath contains exiting biomarkers.
It takes about a minute for blood to flow around the body. So, a breath sample during that time makes possible collection and analysis of VOC biomarkers from any part of the body touched by the circulatory system.
The medical analysis is enabled by software in the Owlstone Medical lab, Boyle told the Cambridge Independent.
“There’s an analogy with blood prints—you get the blood and can look for different diseases, and we’ve developed core hardware and technology to analyze the breath sample,” he said.
Another Breath Sample Device
The ReCIVA Breath Sampler is not the only breathalyzer focused on multiple diseases. Dark Daily reported on research conducted by Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, into a breath analyzer that can detect up to 17 cancers, and inflammatory and neurological diseases.
But Owlstone Medical stands out due, in part, to its noteworthy partners: the UK’s National Health Service, as well as the:
- Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Center;
- University of Cambridge; and,
- Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
And now the company can add collaboration with GSK to its progress. Though some question the reliability of breath tests as biomarkers in the areas of sensitivity and specificity required for cancer diagnosis, Owlstone Medical appears to have the wherewithal to handle those hurdles. It is a diagnostics company that many pathologists and medical laboratory professionals may find worth watching.
—Donna Marie Pocius