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New genetic test to diagnose highly lethal form of prostate cancer enters commercial development; may lead to increased survival

May 23, 2013 -- The occurrence of a rare and highly aggressive form of prostate cancer known as neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC) is increasing. While over 90 percent of malignant prostate cancers occur in the form of adenocarcinoma and have very high cure rates, even those cancers harbor small numbers of neuroendocrine tumor cells. The use of hormone therapy to treat prostate adenocarcinoma increases the number of neuroendocrine cancer cells within a tumor. Prostate cancers that have progressed to a treatment-resistance state contain large numbers of these neuroendocrine cancer cells. Once a prostate cancer converts to NEPC, the patient’s prognosis is poor with average survival times of less than one year. There is no effective treatment for NEPC, partly because this form of the disease is so poorly understood and difficult to diagnose.

Himisha Beltran, MD Mark Rubin, MD

This week Empire Genomics announced their partnership with Prostate Cancer Foundation funded researchers Drs. Himisha Beltran and Dr. Mark Rubin of Cornell University to develop a clinical test to assist in the diagnosis of NEPC. They plan to bring the test to market in the coming year. The ability to accurately diagnose which men and how many men have NEPC is expected to lead to better treatments and novel therapeutics. (Because many men with adenocarcinoma convert to NEPC long after original biopsy(s) has been performed, many cases of NEPC go undetected.) Once a more definitive population of men with NEPC is identified, drugs can be tested against this form of cancer in that subset of men.

The test that Beltran, Rubin and Empire Genomics are collaborating on will use a novel DNA biomarker to detect NEPC. The test finds an aberration—increased copy number—in the aurora kinase A gene.

Anthony Johnson, CEO of Empire Genomics says that his company plans to join forces with pharmaceutical companies to aid in the selection of men with NEPC for clinical trials.

“The Prostate Cancer Foundation is dedicated to better understanding and curing this disease. This genetic biomarker was discovered in part through PCF funding,” said Howard Soule, chief science officer of PCF.

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