Serum Detect, a cancer diagnostics company, is debuting a novel approach for early cancer detection at the upcoming American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference. The company is developing diagnostic tests, using standard liquid biopsy samples, that complement and enhance existing screening techniques for early detection of cancer. 

“Detecting cancer early, before it has spread throughout the body, remains the primary way to achieve cancer cures,” says Roman Yelensky, PhD, Serum Detect’s founder and CEO. “Too often the diagnosis is late, limiting treatment options and increasing mortality. The development of novel, practical, and cost-effective technologies to save lives by detecting cancer early is a critical priority in biomedical research and Serum’s goal.”

Liquid Biopsy for Cancer Detection

Liquid biopsy, or the assessment of cancer through standard blood draws, is an important potential tool for cancer early detection. Existing approaches for liquid biopsy primarily detect tumor-shed analytes such as circulating tumor DNA. These methods have achieved breakthroughs in finding recurring cancer and later-stage disease, but often fail to detect earlier-stage disease, when the concentration of target analytes is low, according to the company. In pursuit of broader detection capabilities, researchers have explored if the immune response against cancer may offer a complementary and more abundant molecular target for screening. However, this research has not yet been developed into practical assays that are compatible with and can improve existing clinical liquid biopsy tools. Serum Detect was founded to address this challenge.

Serum Detect’s Cancer Diagnosis Technology

The company’s technology is based on novel computational techniques pioneered by co-founder Bo Li, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern. By advancing scalable algorithms for T-cell receptor (TCR) clustering and statistical association testing in large TCR repertoire databases, Li demonstrated the potential to identify groups of similar TCRs that recognize the same antigens as part of related immune responses. Serum Detect has shown that these TCR repertoire functional units (or RFUs) can be associated with the presence of cancer and is developing diagnostics to detect RFUs linked to a cancer-specific immune response. These TCR RFUs aggregate signal across T-cells with similar TCR sequences, which may make them a more sensitive indicator of disease earlier in its progression. 

Further, TCR repertoire functional units can be analyzed using the buffy coat, which is a residual fraction of a standard liquid biopsy blood draw. The use of existing, remaining liquid biopsy materials makes Serum Detect’s technology a complementary and orthogonal method to current approaches, potentially enhancing detection capabilities for early-stage cancer, according to Serum Detect. The company is currently pursuing partnering opportunities to complement existing ctDNA tests, as well as planning development of diagnostic test products in-house.

Further reading: Data-Processing Tool Could Support Early-Stage Cancer Detection

About The Serum Detect Team

Serum Detect’s founding team has deep sector expertise. CEO Roman Yelensky, PhD, was an early member of the leadership teams at both Foundation Medicine and Gritstone bio, bringing a wealth of experience in developing cancer genomics technologies and diagnostics. Co-founder Bo Li, PhD, is currently an associate professor at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. At the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, the Li lab has developed a suite of computational methods designed to identify cancer-related signals within the TCR repertoire.