Cell division is important for normal growth and repair. Senescent cells, sometimes called ‘zombie cells’, lose that capacity and enter an enduring growth arrest. While senescence can prevent tumour growth (cancer is characterised by unchecked cell proliferation), in the last few years the presence of senescent cells after cancer therapies has also been associated with relapse. Scientists at Senolytic Therapeutics have developed an innovative in vitro diagnostic test to detect these cells. EU-funding of the SenolT project has provided a turbo-boost to studies designed to bring the test to market quickly. This could improve the prognoses and quality of life of millions while reducing the burden on healthcare systems. Identifying harbingers of recurrence Tissue or liquid (blood) biopsies are often used to detect local or circulating biomarkers including tumour cells and components of tumour cells. In other words, they detect the presence of tumours and can be used to determine optimal treatment regimens. Senescent cells – cancer cells that have evaded the cytotoxic effect of therapies and are not proliferating and causing tumour growth but could – are a potentially powerful biomarker of recurrence. According to Senolytic Therapeutics CEO Dr Marc Ramis and project coordinator Dr Andrea Bernardos, “Physicians, after treating cancer using surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, often need additional information about the presence or absence of residual tumours. Detecting and removing residual tumour cells is the most effective way to prevent recurrence and, as such, identifying new tumour markers is the most pressing demand from oncologists.” Senolytic Therapeutics is a company devoted to developing new classes of medicines that target and eliminate senescent cells, which have been linked to ageing and disease development, and more recently, cancer recurrence. Getting the SenolT test to market, enhancing outcomes for millions According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the global cancer burden has risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018. The SenolT test was focused on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). As Ramis and Bernardos explain, “TNBC is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women worldwide.” A recent study found that about 25 % of patients with TNBC experienced a local or distant recurrence, with the latter associated with a more than 75 % breast cancer-specific mortality. Compared to conventional biopsies, the SenolT test is minimally invasive, fast, easy to use and inexpensive. Most importantly, it is highly discriminative and can detect recurrent tumours in stable patients. SenolT conducted a feasibility study of the test. Not surprisingly, market viability was demonstrated, and the team has now prepared a 5-year business plan. Thanks to the outcomes of SenolT, the company has secured collaboration with a pharma partner, with a plan to bring the test to market as early as 2022. Aside from applications to TNBC and other types of cancers, SenolT is likely to become a valuable diagnostic for pharmaceutical companies focused on the targeting and elimination of senescent cells in aging and other diseases. Wide-ranging utilisation promises global impact on health and disease.
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