Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has received a patent
for a molecular-based blood test that provides a novel approach
to diagnosing prostate cancer. Jefferson has given exclusive licensing
rights to the test to UroCor, Inc., for the United States and
Canada, and to the Italian-based biotechnology firm Raggio-Italgene,
for Europe and Japan.
The new test is the result of research conducted at Jefferson
demonstrating that prostate cancer metastasis could be detected
in the blood of some patients with prostate cancer. The molecular
test may offer a new method of assessing the extent of prostate
cancer by detecting prostate cells in the blood. These cells produce
prostatic-specific antigen (PSA) and may originate from a prostate
tumor. Using the molecular biology technique called reverse transcriptase
polymerase chain reaction (rt/PCR), 1 cancer cell in 100 million
cells may be found using a simple blood sample.
The rt/PCR test can determine whether prostate cells have migrated
beyond the prostate, suggesting an advanced stage of disease.
Ongoing research at other cancer centers has demonstrated that
this test may also be able to determine advanced stages of prostate
cancer long before such methods as x-rays show that the cancer
has spread. One role of the new blood test may be to direct treatment
options for advanced prostate cancer. If the blood test shows
the cancer has spread, the patient could be given the option of
hormonal therapy or newer, experimental therapy, as opposed to
surgical removal of the prostate.
Early Stages of Development
"This test is in its infancy and the exact role of rt/PCR
in the patient with prostate cancer remains to be clearly defined
in our ongoing multi-center trial," said Leonard G. Gomella,
md, director of urologic oncology at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer
Center. Dr. Gomella is working in conjunction with other Jefferson
researchers, including Jose G. Moreno, md, and Carlo Croce, md,
director of the Kimmel Cancer Center, in the development of this
test. Eight academic cancer centers across the United States,
in concert with UroCor, are currently studying how to best apply
this new blood test to patients with prostate cancer.
"Men with prostate cancer die because it spreads through
the bloodstream to their bones. This test gives us a powerful
tool to determine when spreading of the cancer first occurs,"
said Dr. Gomella.
"Simply removing the prostate in those patients often is
an ineffective way to treat the disease," he said. "Combining
the diagnosis with the power of the new rt/PCR test will help
to define the best treatment approach."
The patent is the result of work by Jefferson researchers on the
blood assay begun several years ago. Abram Goldfinger, director
of technology transfer at Jefferson, believes that the patent
serves as confirmation of the pioneering work in this field led
by Jefferson researchers. "We look forward to these advances
at Jefferson becoming widely available to provide improved patient