Massachusetts’ Cellanyx Develops New Method to Culture Primary Prostate Cells

Massachusetts’ Cellanyx Develops New Method to Culture Primary Prostate Cells June 1, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

BEVERLY, Mass. – Things are looking bright for tiny startup biotech Cellanyx as the company has made headway on revolutionizing precision diagnostic test for prostate cancer.

Company researchers have developed a method to keep prostate biopsy cells alive outside of the body long enough to analyze them for diagnostic testing. Cellanyx Chief Executive Officer Ashok Chander told BioSpace in an exclusive interview that the technology allowing the process was something he began working on in 2009 while pursuing his Ph.D., but it now has the potential to be an industry-wide game changer when it comes to blockbuster diagnostics.

“It was born from a very simple question,” Chander said, “why are all the diagnostics being done with dead cells, when all the research has been done with live cells?”

After conducting experiments, Chander said he uncovered a protein formulation that enables primary biopsy cells to be kept alive and then cultured to use cutting-edge microscopy to interrogate those cells. Current methods for culturing prostate cells rely on “immortalized cell lines” that are grown in a serum. Over time, he said, those cells undergo mutations that may render them “un-representative of prostate tissue in vivo.” Chander said cells in cancer tumors look different from patient to patient and even tumor to tumor. He added that cells within the same tumor can also be very different, which is one reason the disease is such a complex problem to solve.

“This poses problems on a diagnostic level. You have to understand the tumors to know which therapies they will react to,” he said. “That’s the beauty of what Cellanyx is doing with the phenotypic diagnostics.”

With prostate cancer being the most common type of cancer among men in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in men, the new Cellanyx technique could give researchers an advantage when attempting to develop therapies for the disease. Founded in 2013, Cellanyx and its 10 employees have been focused on developing a proprietary living cell phenotypic cancer diagnostic.

The new method builds on a growing body of research indicating that interactions among cells and the extracellular matrix in which they reside play important roles in normal cell function and cancer, the company said. Culturing primary prostate cells gives researchers a clear advantage in probing genomic heterogeneity within the cells, Chander said.

Genomics can tell you only so much about biology, Chander said. Phenotypic behavior allows researchers to hone in.. Chander described it as a holistic interpretation of the cell.

Chander described the Cellanyx approach to phenotypic diagnostics as the difference between watching a video of a child’s birthday party to only seeing a photo of the candles being blown out.

“Because they’re live cells, we get a dynamic picture of them. It’s like the birthday party analogy. Instead of just seeing that moment when the candles on the cake are being blown out, you can see how the child reacts to each birthday present and if everyone is enjoying themselves,” Chander said.

Details of Cellanyx’s phenotypic study can be found in the July 2017 issue of Urology. In the study, Cellanyx researchers obtained tissue samples from 10 clinical sites in the United States from 260 patients undergoing radical prostatectomies. Of those tissue samples, the company said 251 were successfully cultured. Cells using the company’s proprietary extracellular matrix formulation performed significantly better than control. The researchers also used a marker of tumor cells to demonstrate that the cultured cells included cancer as well as non-cancer cells, the company said. Using the formulation, the company said the cells can be analyzed within 72 hours of harvesting from tissue.

The ability to culture live prostate cells is ushering in the era of “live cell phenotypic diagnostics,” he said.

Chander said they have presented the data for prostate cancer and are also leveraging the capabilities in clinical studies in breast, kidney, lung and bladder cancers. He said they will be sharing additional data later in the year.

Cellanyx has already shared some of its data in abstract form at conferences and because of that, the company is receiving interest from undisclosed pharma companies that might like to use the technology to stratify patients in clinical trials to accelerate drug research, he said. As the July article makes more rounds, that could lead to transformations in cancer research as well as within the company itself.

“We’re really excited about this. We’ve had our heads down doing the research for several years,” Chander said. “We’ve validated it and now it’s time to share this with people to get it into the clinic and help patients’ lives.”

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