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7 February, 2017 - 10:13 By Tony Quested

Owlstone starts world’s largest breath-based bowel cancer trial

Owlstone Medical founder Billy Boyle

Owlstone Medical in Cambridge has triggered the world’s largest breath-based study into colorectal (bowel) cancer; it will be run in collaboration with the University of Warwick and the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

The trial leverages Owlstone’s FAIMS nanotechnology. Known as InTERCEPT, the trial aims to evaluate the accuracy of Owlstone Medical’s breath and urine test in the detection of colorectal cancer at an early stage, when patient survival rates are at their highest.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer killer worldwide, with 215,000 deaths every year. Current faecal screening tests are described as unpleasant and, as a result, have a low compliance rate.

This, combined with relatively low test sensitivity – particularly in early disease stages – means that too many patients are diagnosed with late stage disease, leading to poor outcomes.

The InTERCEPT trial follows a successful pilot study using Owlstone Medical’s microchip FAIMS (Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometer) platform technology, which showed sensitivity of 88 per cent in detecting Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) biomarkers for colorectal cancer.

The pilot study also showed sensitivity of 62 per cent for detection of advanced adenomas, a pre-cancerous stage of colorectal cancer, representing a substantial increase in the rate of detection compared with the faecal occult blood tests based on detecting blood in faeces that are used currently within the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

Owlstone’s work has received widespread support from research organisations and charities including Bowel Cancer UK, CRUK, the NCRI colorectal screening & prevention sub-group and the NIRI Clinical Research Network.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “A combination of low compliance and low sensitivity of current tests means too many patients are diagnosed when the cancer is at an advanced stage and survival chances are very poor.

“Two years ago my wife died of colorectal cancer as a direct result of late diagnosis. Early detection is our greatest opportunity for saving lives when chances of survival are higher than 90 per cent – through our InTERCEPT trial we hope to make this a reality for more patients.”

• Owlstone Medical won Business Weekly’s Life Science Innovation Award in March 2016. Business Weekly’s Awards also recognise social enterprise globally as a memorial to Billy’s late wife, Kate Gross.

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