On-Q-ity, Led by Former Genzyme Exec, Takes on “Diagnostic Black Hole” in Cancer

Xconomy Boston — 

Cancer survivors could have tumor cells circulating in their blood stream and not know it, because imaging exams don’t detect these indicators of potential malignancies, says Mara Aspinall, the chief executive of On-Q-ity.

On-Q-ity, a diagnostics startup based in Waltham, MA, wants to find these circulating tumor cells in patients’ blood and use biomarkers to shed more light on their cancer. The company formed in 2009 through the merger of Silicon Valley’s Cellective Dx and The DNA Repair Company in the Boston area. Aspinall led On-Q-ity’s efforts to raise $26 million in a Series A round of venture capital last year. She is a big name in the diagnostics world, given her previous role as president of the genetic testing unit of Cambridge, MA-based biotech giant Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ), and she’s moved her new company into the center of the discussion about the future role of molecular diagnostics in cancer treatment.

Aspinall says that one area of opportunity for her company is in tracking breast cancer relapses (yet she sees applications of the technology at multiple stages of cancer treatment and for many different types of tumors.) Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women after skin cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. A lurking danger for these women, after they complete treatments to wipe out their breast cancer, is that the gold standard imaging exams like MRIs and CT scans only catch tumors of a certain size. That means some percentage of recurring tumors go unnoticed, Aspinall says.

She compared this chilling scenario to a black hole in outer space.

“The patient is told that we don’t see anything abnormal. We see no lumps. We see no re-growth,” Aspinall says. “But the reality is, and this is what we call the Diagnostic Black Hole, is these patients are being told that they are … Next Page »

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