Canadian-developed screening test aims to detect early-stage cancer using blood samples

Tom Yun CTVNews.ca writer

Published November 28, 2021

TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in late-stage cancer diagnoses, with restrictions preventing or discouraging many from getting screened early. But a new screening technology developed by a Canadian company could make it easier to detect cancers earlier.

StageZero Life Sciences is a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based health care company that has developed a way to simultaneously screen for a wide variety of cancers using a single blood sample. Some of the cancers that StageZero can detect include breast, cervical, endometrial, prostate, liver, stomach, bladder and colorectal.

“We’re adding a whole series of additional ones. And as we continue to build out, we’ll continue to add to them,” StageZero Chairman and CEO James Howard-Tripp told CTV News Channel on Saturday.

The test uses mRNA technology to analyze gene signatures in the patient’s blood sample and cross-reference them with genetic profiles of individuals who have had cancer.

“We’ll take a sample of your blood and we then measure it to see whether it matches. Clearly, if it does that, we’re going to say with very high probability that you have (cancer),” said Howard-Tripp.

If mRNA sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same technology that’s been used to develop the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

Howard-Tripp says the blood tests can detect cancers with 98 to 99 per cent accuracy at any stage, even in very early stages. If the blood test comes up as positive for a cancer, the patient would be advised to see a pathologist for a traditional lab test to confirm the diagnosis.

“We will always tell you that we’re not the definitive test. The definitive test is always a piece of tissue in front of the pathologist,” Howard-Tripp said.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 229,200 new cancer cases and 84,600 cancer deaths are expected in 2021.

But being able to detect cancers in the earlier stages can significantly increase the likelihood of survival. For example, patients with colorectal cancers detected in stage one or two have a five-year survival rate of around 90 per cent, Howard-Tripp says.

“If you find it late, at stages three and four, you’ve got a 10 to 14 per cent chance of being alive in five year’s time. More than two-thirds of the time, colorectal cancer is found late,” he said.

Howard-Tripp says the pandemic has resulted in a “tsunami” of late-stage cancer diagnoses.

“COVID has had an absolutely massive impact on healthcare, because you don’t go and see your physician because of all the difficulties with it, unless you’re really ill. And at that point, you’re by and large symptomatic. If you are symptomatic, you’re by and large late stage,” he explained.

So far, StageZero’s blood tests have been made available in clinics in the Greater Toronto Area and parts of the United States. Howard-Tripp says anyone who is worried that they’re at a heightened risk of cancer due to age, heritage, family history or any other factors can get screened.

“It really is simply available to anyone that might have a concern,” he said.

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