Biotechnology Focus

Biotechnology Focus November 2012

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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By: Daniela Fisher MITOMICS: I n the world of early disease detec- tion, Mitomics Inc. is pioneering the next generation of molecular testing. The Thunder Bay-based company is charting new territory with an innovative approach to the screening and diagnosis of cancer by using mitochondrial DNA (mtD- NA) based biomarkers instead of traditional nuclear DNA-based biomarkers. Its Prostate Core Mitomic TestTM (PC- MTTM), released in 2011 for the more accurate detection of prostate cancer, has attracted much industry attention for its unique approach to detecting disease using its patented Mitomic TechnologyTM . "We have a technology that we know can compete head-to-head with any other evolv- ing or developing next-generation diagnostic technology," says Robert Poulter, CEO and president of Mitomics. "But what makes us unique is the mitochondrial DNA, the sig- nificant early detection component, and our ability to pick a disease, go off and discover." Poulter, a Thunder Bay native with a back- ground in banking and finance, joined the company in 2007, using his experience to take Mitomics' PCMT from research and de- velopment to market. The company itself was founded in 2001 under the name Genesis Ge- nomics, later becoming Mitomics – a blending of the words mitochondria and genomics. Mitomic technology is what sets the company apart from others. It focuses on large-scale deletions in mitochondrial DNA, which can indicate cellular changes that can be associated with cancer development. "The mitochondria have their own unique DNA," says Poulter. "It's a circular loop, and it's very, very small but easy to monitor for alterations. We are able to determine where pieces, or sequences, INNOVATOR FEATURE the next generation of molecular testing of that DNA effectively go missing when disease hits. We can tell you what DNA sequence goes missing depending on what type of disease." That's opposed to looking at the nuclear DNA, which has the ability to repair itself and fix the damage to the cell, until it is overwhelmed and has no choice but to change into a diseased cell. The mitochon- dria have no ability to repair themselves. The idea to look at mtDNA deletions came from the company's co-founders: a group of scientists primarily out of Lakehead Uni- versity, including Mitomics' CSO Ryan Parr. With a PhD in biological (molecular) Hopkins that talked about using mtDNA as a detector for different types of cancer because of its fast mutation rate. "We thought, 'Wow, we work really hard on ancient mtDNA, this sounds like a good idea for us'," says Parr. "That was actually the genesis of Genesis Genomics, the idea that you could use mitochondrial DNA to detect disease, and since we had worked with it, we felt like we may have an advantage in setting up a company to do early cancer detection." Their first target was prostate cancer, as they felt there was an unmet need in that area for better screening, diagnostic and treatment methods. Parr set to work "Our test takes that same negative tissue, and analyzes it for this unique large-scale deletion of the mtDNA. If we can detect the deletion event or determine whether this piece has gone missing, we can tell the phy- sician, 'That tumour is in that prostate and you've missed it in your biopsy process. Go back in and find it, diagnose this patient." — Robert Poulter anthropology from the University of Utah, Parr was at Lakehead working on analyzing and sequencing mtDNA extracted from the skeletal remains of ancient Egyptian popula- tions. In the late 1990s, Parr and the other researchers came across a paper from Johns researching and developing mtDNA-based biomarkers, and one of the company's first milestones was the results from a study meant to determine if they could find pros- tate cancer just by looking at mutations or alterations in the mtDNA. "I remember very distinctly that we looked at the mtDNA from the prostates of individu- als who had prostate cancer, and who'd had their prostates removed for that issue, compared to individuals who didn't have prostate cancer," says Parr. "We found there was quite a dif- NOVEMBER 2012 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS 19

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