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Predicting lupus flares?
OKLAHOMA CITY—Lead investor i2E, along with Chicago-based OCA Ventures and Rochester-based Mayo Clinic Ventures, funded in late November the first round of investment to assist Progentec Diagnostics in moving its predictive technology for the onset of lupus flares closer to commercialization. Technology created by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) is at the core of the platform being developed by Progentec.
According to Dr. Mohan Purushothaman, president and CEO of the company, “Progentec, after its establishment in 2015, was looking for technologies in the diagnostic space. Progentec’s [prediction] technology was licensed from OMRF based on work done by Dr. Judith James. We continue our collaborative relationship with OMRF, and additional studies have been conducted by scientists at OMRF to further refine the algorithm and develop new areas where the technology platform could be applied.”
Progentec is working closely with OMRF’s Dr. Judith James, a world leader in lupus research and an inventor of Progentec’s technology, to further advance and refine the platform and its associated algorithms. The company’s technologies include highly accurate tests for early diagnosis, a score to track underlying disease activity and a predictive score for lupus flares. With the current funding round, which brought in $1.25 million, Progentec plans to conduct a retrospective study at OMRF and prospective studies at OMRF and Mayo Clinic to further refine these algorithms.
“The ability to predict an impending flare represents significant value to lupus patients and their physicians. This test is currently not available and is a focus area for us,” said Sanjiv Sharma, chairman of Progentec.
OMRF has established a significant focus on lupus. “OMRF has been at the forefront of leading scientific research, especially in the field of lupus,” noted Manu Nair, Vice president of technology ventures at OMRF. “Progentec is going on a trajectory that we have traversed in the past, and we believe that our science, combined with the entrepreneurial and management skills brought in by Progentec, will successfully bring these tests to the market.”
“There was clear recognition of the value that a test of this nature can bring to the world of lupus care and management. Lupus is a terrible condition, and the flare-ups experienced by patients not only affect their quality of life, but also their health in very adverse ways,” Purushothaman continues. “Thus, there is a significant unmet need for solutions that can help manage lupus in a better way. This aspect was clearly recognized by the investors in this current round.”
“We are pleased to work with OCA Ventures and Mayo Clinic on this promising, Oklahoma-born project,” said Scott Meacham, president and CEO of i2E Inc. “It is important to work together to identify and develop technologies like these in their early stages when they most need help.”
Mayo Clinic Ventures also found Progentec’s technology aligned with their clinical interest in lupus, particularly in managing patients with a diagnostic to improve patient care, while potentially reducing clinical costs. “We are excited to work with Progentec and OMRF to advance this technology and hopefully bring about a change in how lupus patients are diagnosed, managed and treated,” said Andrew Danielsen, vice chair of Mayo Clinic Ventures. Mayo Clinic plans to use any revenue it receives to support its not-for-profit mission in patient care, education and research.
Lupus causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, and sufferers of the condition have periods of flares and remission, with organs such as the skin, kidneys, lungs and reproductive organs typically affected, as well as the cardiovascular system.
“For flare prediction, we have used a large number of biomarkers—both regulatory and inflammatory. A soluble mediator score is then developed using certain proprietary weights assigned to these readings. This diagnostic test is not based on any existing test. In fact, as far as we know, this would be the first test in the market to predict lupus flares,” points out Purushothaman.
“We do have plans to build at least two other tests that will use a similar approach; however, the biomarkers involved and the algorithms used are expected to be different,” adds Purushothaman. “These tests are currently under development. The areas in focus are a test to classify lupus patients accurately and well before symptoms appear, and a test to track the underlying disease activity. [Tracking] underlying disease activity will fundamentally change how lupus patients are identified for specific interventions and allow for better management decisions at all levels of the healthcare system.”