In search of cures for ‘his and hers’ cancers
PITTSFIELD, Mass.—Biomarker pioneer Nuclea Biotechnologies Inc. recently announced a new partnership with Boston Medical Center (BMC) that the parties say could lead to more effective and patient- specific treatments for people with breast and prostate cancers. The pairing of the Massachusetts-based biotech firm and one of Boston's leading teaching hospitals will reportedly significantly advance research and development of biomarkers, a key component in the growing field of personalized medicine.
Nuclea discovers and develops biomarkers and diagnostic assays that can help predict which treatments will be effective for certain patients, depending on the patient's genetic makeup.
The partnership, which both sides say has been in the works for about two years, will work to develop new diagnostic tests, combining assays with BMC's pathology expertise plus capacity in radiologic testing, into a new modality to detect the earliest stages of disease.
As part of the deal, Nuclea will pay BMC approximately $1.4 million over the next three years to support the research. In return, Nuclea will have right of first refusal of commercialization on all new discoveries relating to biomarker development, biomarker arrays and methods involving new diagnostic and novel radiological interpretations.
The partnership wraps in BMC's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Radiology. The combination of the two areas of expertise will direct the research focus toward gene expressions in specific tumors to help radiologists review results in a different and more comprehensive way.
Daniel Remick, the director of BMC's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, says new initiatives at BMC led the drive toward the partnership with Nuclea.
"Nuclea has previously partnered with pathologists at other academic medical centers," Remick says. "With the recruitment of a new chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, there was a re-invigoration of the research mission within pathology at Boston Medical Center."
Nuclea's Patrick Muraca, the company's president and CEO, says that the combination of medical specialities, paired with Nuclea's unique capabilities, also promises to hone in on hard-to-diagnose cancers in underserved populations.
"The new testing modality in gene or protein expression, combined with radiologic testing tools, will help confirm the presence of cancers," Muraca says. "Our expertise in gene and protein expression technology and bioinformatics will help sort through data sets faster. Most hospitals don't have that capability themselves. The hospital will bring this new approach to underserved communities, such as in African-American men with prostate cancer—a patient population they have access to."
Remick agrees: "One of the new initiatives of the department was to develop a robust biorepository," he says. "Nuclea and BMC will partner to study specimens from the biorepository, capitalizing on the strengths from each organization."
Specifically, adds Remick, each partner brings ready access to the tools each needs to be a productive partner immediately.
"The pathologists at BMC bring diagnostic expertise and a collection of frozen biospecimens. Nuclea has a range of antibodies and molecular testing that will be used for study in these specimens. Better diagnostic and prognostic protocols will be established through this partnership as a result," Remick says.
Both sides of the collaboration say the pact means more jobs for each organization. Muraca indicates that Nuclea will add three new positions to deal with the huge volume of data to be reviewed, and Remick states that the BMC and the Boston University School of Medicine will add faculty and staff in both radiology and pathology.
"This partnership allows our department to continue our historic mission of conducting research," concludes Remick. "Exceptional care without exception includes expanding diagnostic tests so that they more effectively detect cancers, so that treatment may begin as soon as possible. This partnership will allow us to leverage our existing resources to move diagnostic tests to the next level."
Muraca has high hopes for the partnership and its potential impact on the growing field of personalized medicine.
"We would like to come up with our first diagnostic test within a year," Muraca says. "Hopefully, that will then become the standard in personalized medicine. It is our hope that new testing methods will enable doctors to refine treatments to suit the patient, instead of using a cookie-cutter approach to curing disease."
Nuclea Biotechnologies is headquartered in Pittsfield, with additional operations in Worcester, Mass. Nuclea has developed and is commercializing 11 unique diagnostic tests for breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers, as well as for leukemia. Nuclea also performs research leading to novel molecular oncology therapeutics and diagnostics for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
BMC is a private, not-for-profit, 639-licensed bed, academic medical center that is the primary teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. The hospital offers a full spectrum of pediatric and adult care services including primary and family medicine and advanced specialty care with an emphasis on community-based care. BMC and Boston University School of Medicine are partners in the Boston HealthNet, 15 community health centers focused on providing healthcare to residents of Boston.