UK start-up Angle draws interest for newly approved cancer test

Leading pharmaceutical companies are lining up to use a pioneering cancer test developed by UK start-up Angle after it received a first-of-its-kind US regulatory clearance.

Angle’s liquid biopsy test captures live cancer cells in the blood that clinicians can use to personalise treatment by understanding the mutations and gene expression in each patient’s cancer.

Shares in the London-listed company jumped almost 60 per cent on the day the Food and Drug Administration gave the test clearance for use in metastatic breast cancer.

The Surrey-based start-up already works with US drugmaker Abbott to use its test to identify patients who will respond to its treatment Herceptin. It is working on a trial in ovarian cancer and this week signed a deal with Philadelphia-based MidLantic Urology to study its test in prostate cancer.

Andrew Newland, chief executive, said other companies had approached Angle since the clearance last week because the test enables them to follow their progress as the drug tackles tumours. Ultimately, it hopes they will develop diagnostics as companions to each drug.

“Our vision is that we’re going to transform the way that cancer is diagnosed and treated for every cancer type worldwide,” he said. “So we either have to be a very, very large company, or as we’re currently planning, we have to have many deals with very large companies to achieve that.” 

He said Angle wants to help clinicians who are “flying blind”, trying to work out which treatments a patient will respond to. In metastatic breast cancer, over half of patients do not have a biopsy at the secondary site, or repeat biopsies. “The cancer changes over time so the tissue biopsy becomes out of date,” he said.

Until now, harvesting these cancer cells has been a huge challenge because there is roughly one to every billion blood cells. The company, which grew out of a consulting business helping commercialise intellectual property, acquired the patents behind the test from George Hvichia, a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Investment has been pouring into the nascent liquid biopsy market, funding scientists who hope that a simple blood test can replace more invasive ways of detecting and monitoring cancer. Gene-sequencing company Illumina is acquiring cancer-testing group Grail for $8bn, while other businesses such as Thrive and Freenome have raised large sums in private funding rounds.

Rivals are focusing on developing tests that could be used to diagnose patients with early-stage cancers, before they begin to experience symptoms. This could be revolutionary but is fraught with risk because the tests must be very accurate to avoid false positives.

In contrast, Angle is focusing on tracking already diagnosed cancers to enable more personalised treatment and is selling a testing product to labs rather than offering a service.

As demand soars, Angle plans to expand its workforce by 50 per cent this year and to double the size of its headquarters.

But Newland said there had been far more appetite for the test in the US than from the UK’s NHS, even though it has the EU CE mark.

The company has worked with top UK cancer research centres such as Barts Cancer Institute but would like to roll it out more extensively across the health service, where it has been “very, very difficult to gain traction”.

“Unfortunately, we failed miserably. We tried. But we’re finding all the traction is coming on the United States side, which is very disappointing,” he said. “We can even provide this test at relatively low cost . . . but it’s just impossible to find anybody who’s able to make a decision.”

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