Genetron Holdings Limited (Genetron Health; Nasdaq: GTH), a leading precision oncology company, has participated in a significant national research project for early screening of lung and digestive system cancers led by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). The project was launched on August 29 in Beijing and was opened by Sizhen Wang, Genetron Health’s co-founder and CEO, as well as Jie He, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director of the National Cancer Centre of China (NCC).
Genetron Health specializes in molecular profiling tests in China and has become an industry pioneer. The collaborative project aims to achieve breakthroughs in liquid biopsies for cancer screenings. This includes building a highly sensitive, efficient, and affordable liquid biopsy-based early detection technology platform and developing proprietary cancer screening and test kits.
Why Genetron Health
The collaborative project will include a prospective cohort lung cancer study of 120,000 high-risk individuals in 20 Chinese provinces. The partners are also setting up a cohort study of digestive system cancers which will include more than 100,000 patients in urban areas and the Huai River Basin in southern China. The study will build on earlier research from NCC and may be one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in China. According to a 2019 report fromNCC, about 4 million Chinese people were diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and there has been 3.9% annual growth in the incidence of cancer over the past ten years. In many cases, Chinese patients come to seek treatment when their cancers have reached a terminal stage. Therefore, earlier screening, detection, and treatment can effectively improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients.
Existing cancer diagnosis and screening mechanisms, however, only use a single biomarker target that lacks precision, specificity, and sensitivity, which can lead to poor testing accuracy. Thus, to create better early detection technologies, it is necessary to collaborate with diagnostic services companies that use DNA sequencing technology.
“We chose to partner with Genetron Health for its leading technology capabilities, and we expect to develop a proprietary malignant tumor screening and early detection testing kit that will significantly improve the survival rates of those who suffer from cancer,” said Dr. Jie Wang, a leading researcher of the project and a director from the Cancer Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS).
Genetron Health is now the only company in China that is involved in national-level research and development projects for liver, lung, and digestive cancer early screening. Genetron Health and the MOST plan to adopt the company’s self-developed Mutation CapsuleTM technology which requires only a small amount of blood to simultaneously detect methylation and several types of gene mutations in ctDNA including SNV, Indel, CNV, which lead to cancer.
Genetron Health focuses on multi-omics and multi-dimensional data analysis, both of which are promising paths for companies trying to achieve better early cancer screening outcomes. For example, Freenome, an early cancer detection company, recently received financing from Google. The company is trying to roll out its multi-omics platform using molecular biology and machine learning to do early colon cancer screenings.
In the near future, Genetron Health aims to develop an independent, low-coast early screening product for high-incidence cancer types with the help of its innovative technology. Its long-term goal is to combine the biomarkers of different types of cancer to develop an early screening product for multiple cancer types.
“We are honored to be involved in this major government-led project based on our Mutation CapsuleTM technology. In addition, we are delighted to apply this technology beyond liver cancer and now into lung and digestive system cancers,” said Sizhen Wang.
All about Genetron Health
The collaborative project makes use of Genetron Health’s research on early-stage liver cancer detection. In March 2019, Genetron Health and the NCC/ the Cancer Hospital, CAMS, published the promising results of their liver cancer early screening study in at-risk individuals using liquid biopsies in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It is the world’s first prospective study on early liver cancer screening, according to Dr. Jie Wang.
Preliminary data from the liver cancer study shows Genetron Health’s technology is accurately detecting cancers. The company has continued to optimize HCCscreenTM, which uses its Mutation CapsuleTM technology. In its ongoing cohort study on liver early screening tests with 2,000 hepatitis B patients, Genetron’s preliminary data on 297 patients demonstrated high sensitivity, specificity (both over 92%) and positive predictive value.
Founded in 2015, Beijing-based Genetron Health provides a comprehensive product and service portfolio that covers full-cycle cancer care from early screening to diagnosis and monitoring. The company’s mission is to transform global cancer prevention and treatment by driving technological innovation and accelerating the adoption of precision oncology medicine. On June 19, 2020, Genetron Health went public on Nasdaq at USD 16 per ADS, raising USD 256 million, a milestone mark of its kind of company.
Genetron Health collaborates with biopharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and research institutions in China and abroad on genomics research and clinical development. It has published about 20 research papers with multiple institutions in prestigious academic journals including Nature Genetics, Nature Communications, PNAS, and others. Genetron Health also offers customized products and services to global biopharmaceutical companies.
What’s the next big thing in China
The future of cancer early screening products looks promising. This technology not only provides clinical screening solutions but also has economic value.
That’s why the industry has begun to make deep investments in the field of early cancer screening. For example, Grail, the world’s best-funded American cancer detection company, has carried out 4 prospective cohort studies which include over 100,000 people.
However, the Chinese market is under-penetrated but even larger. Take liver cancer as an example. It is one of the most common malignant tumors among Chinese people, and more than 50% of new global cases are in China each year. Early screening can largely reduce the mortality rate caused by liver cancer while providing value for investors.
The Chinese market for early cancer screening products is still in its infancy. The industry is still rather immature, a “vast blue ocean” as Genetron Health CEO Sizhen Wang said at the launch. However, some breakthroughs in early screening technology are drawing near thanks to the widespread use of early screening products, such as Genetron Health’s study and services on liver cancer early screening, he added.
The early cancer screening market in China will see new companies flooding in. However, the market requires advanced technological innovation, which will be the focus of competition. Genetron Health will continue its emphasis on research and development and commercial operations, which are the foundations of the company.
“Our goal is to develop tests with high performance and affordable pricing in order to reduce cancer-related healthcare expenses in our country, and more importantly, to save more lives,” said Wang.