Alberta startup to develop new diagnostics for prostate cancer

Technology bridges oncology and glycomics with discovery of novel cancer-specific sugar

A new biotechnology spinoff with roots in a GlycoNet project is planning to capitalize on the discovery of a novel cancer-specific sugar to develop new diagnostic tools and drugs for prostate cancer.

Dr. Hon Sing Leong – Photo courtesy of Leong Lab

GlyCa BioSciences Inc. is a company based on the intellectual property developed by Dr. Hon Leong (Western University) and his co-inventor Dr. Karla Williams (University of British Columbia), who discovered a sugar released into the blood by prostate cancer cells. This breakthrough set the foundation for the development of a diagnostic tool that uses this sugar as a biomarker to detect high-risk prostate cancer with a simple blood test.

“What’s really amazing is that we’re now starting to seriously consider that sugars generated by these aggressive cancers can be exploited for human gain,” says Leong, Chief Scientific Officer and a founder of the new company. “This could herald a new approach in how we treat these cancers, and the mission of GlyCa BioSciences will be to take full advantage of this opportunity.”

Prostate cancer is the third-leading cause of death from cancer for men in Canada. This new diagnostic could help catch lethal prostate cancer sooner, and minimize the overtreatment of low-risk prostate cancer, resulting in improved patient outcomes and quality of life.

Dr. Karla Williams – Photo courtesy of Leong Lab

Leong notes that funding and support from GlycoNet were crucial to research behind the discovery of this sugar and to the creation of GlyCa BioSciences.

“Not a lot is known about these sugars, so when we submitted our research proposal to other granting agencies it just didn’t get much traction and ultimately was not funded as a result,” he says. “None of this – getting the company started, or seeing the results we’ve demonstrated in prostate cancer – would have happened without having GlycoNet put their support behind us so strongly. GlyCa and GlycoNet go hand in hand.”

Dr. Todd Lowary, Scientific Director of GlycoNet, is excited for the future of GlyCa BioSciences and is pleased to have supported the research behind the spinoff company.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have GlycoNet research move from the laboratory, through regulatory approval and into the hands of clinicians, and with the formation of GlyCa, Dr. Leong and his team are one step closer to the commercialization of this technology, which is very exciting. We predict this could have a great impact on the lives of patients in the future,” says Lowary.

The company’s primary focus is on commercializing the prostate cancer biomarker technology. GlyCa BioSciences is currently building relationships with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States with the goal of initiating a clinical trial to demonstrate the potential of the company’s marker to improve the early detection and treatment of prostate and other cancers.

In addition to its use as a biomarker, GlyCa BioSciences has plans to advance this sugar further, including developing an imaging probe that uses it to identify the exact locations of metastases. Leong notes that the long-term goal for GlyCa BioSciences is exploring how this sugar could become a drug target for developing drugs to stop the spread of cancer.

“Our long-term goal is to ask the question, ‘if we prevented the cell from making this sugar, what happens?’ That’s the cure element – to make a drug that prevents the synthesis of this sugar and possibly results in a less aggressive cancer.”

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