Pacific Edge Biotechnology is at the forefront of cancer research, and receiving support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation to develop its life-saving early detection tools.
We all agree that the world would be a much better place without cancer; however, the tools available to clinicians often fall well short of expectation for early detection and good management. That’s why scientists are working day and night to develop diagnostic and prognostic tests to help increase detection and survival rates for those affected.
Pacific Edge Biotechnology Ltd (PEBL), a Dunedin-based biomedical company, is at the forefront of groundbreaking research and product development in this field. Founded in 2001, PEBL was set up with the aim of finding better solutions for the early detection and management of cancers.
After a decade of intensive research and clinical trials, the company’s first product, Cxbladder, is commercially available in New Zealand and Australia. This simple to use, non-invasive urine test will allow for earlier and more accurate detection of bladder cancers.
“Bladder cancer is a significant and challenging disease with very high recurrence, giving rise to a large burden on clinicians and healthcare funding,” says Pacific Edge’s CEO David Darling. “Bladder cancer has the highest total medical costs of any cancer—in the US it’s approaching US$200,000 per patient from detection to death—and it progresses quickly, so waiting isn’t a good scenario.”
About 50,000 cases of haematuria (blood in the urine) are anticipated in Australia and New Zealand, giving rise to about 3,000 new cases of bladder cancer in Australasia each year—80 percent of them among men. Cxbladder provides general practitioners and urologists with a quick, cost-effective and accurate measure of the presence of the cancer. It also enables urologists to reduce their reliance on the need for invasive tests such as cystoscopy. Test results are available for download through a secure web portal in just two hours.
“It’s been great to go through the hard yards of doing the discovery work and all the product development and actually getting it through the clinical study, which is very tough,” says Darling. “The research is fascinating and you get a big sense of satisfaction being involved in this human health work.”
This type of scientific research involves an ongoing commitment to innovation, which, of course, requires funding. The Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI)—the lead agency driving the science and innovation sector in New Zealand—has been a vital supporter of Pacific Edge’s research and development since 2001.
Over the past ten years, Pacific Edge has been awarded $2.14 million in MSI funding, with each application dedicated to a specific R&D project.
“The funding has helped Pacific Edge overcome large technical hurdles,” says Darling. “We probably wouldn’t be around otherwise. MSI’s contribution has been vital in showing our shareholders that New Zealand supports the push.”
In the case of Cxbladder, MSI’s funding helped remove the technical risk in several products as Pacific Edge transitioned from the initial discovery through the product development into a prototype product—a difficult and resource-intensive period.
At this stage, quantifying the returns from MSI’s investment is difficult, as Pacific Edge’s first products have only just gone to market. However, these markets are large and there’s a strong and unmet need for this technology in early detection and management of cancer, says Darling.
The Australasian market for bladder cancer alone is estimated at 55,000–85,000 tests annually while the US is expected to have 1 million people presenting with haematuria, giving rise to approximately 67,000 new incidences of bladder cancer. The clinical evaluation of these patients with blood in their urine is expected to cost the US healthcare system US$1 billion a year.
“We’re entering multimillion-dollar markets, but it’s a binary event—you either get into the market and make huge returns or you don’t,” says Darling. “The MSI funding will enable us to make these multimillion-dollar returns.”
Pacific Edge recently signed a deal with leading Australian healthcare provider Healthscope to market Cxbladder across the Tasman. Pacific Edge now plans to hit the bigger markets of Europe, Asia and the US.
Senior MSI investment manager Justin Andrist says Pacific Edge illustrates what the ministry looks for in health-sector investments: high-value exports coupled with strong technical and management teams.
“Pacific Edge continues to move from strength to strength, and the agreement with Healthscope is a good sign of bigger and better things to come,” he says.
Funding awarded to Pacific Edge Biotechnology through MSI
Pacific Edge’s average annual IP development and management costs
People presenting with haematuria giving rise to 3,000 cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in Australasia each year
Urine sample required to test for bladder cancer using Pacific Edge’s new Cxbladder diagnostic tool