Raising hopes of beating a deadly disease

Birth and death are mysteries of life, and science and technology are often used in efforts to unlock those puzzles.

Sanomics Limited, established in 2015 and an incubatee of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), provides a novel genetic testing service for safe and quick cancer diagnoses. The tests help medical practitioners tailor corresponding treatment programs to improve survival chances.

Targeted treatments for malignant afflictions
Cancer, still considered incurable, can be managed with a range of treatments. Precision medicine, also known as targeted therapy, can be an option for dealing with cancer in its final stages. However, targeted therapy works only on specific types of tumour growth, and requires detailed genetic tests for a doctor to determine if it is applicable, to avoid wasting time and money on an ineffective treatment.

Biopsy is still the most common tumour diagnostic tool. It requires using an endoscope or a needle to extract suspicious tissue for examination. It is a costly and risky procedure, and can’t be repeated too often lest it causes more harm than good.

Liquid biopsy has been gaining in popularity in recent years. The procedure involves separating blood plasma and blood cells in a sample to test for abnormal genetic materials released by cancer cells into the blood plasma. It is a safer and quicker diagnostic tool increasingly used by medical practitioners.

Making liquid biopsy more effective
The name Sanomics is derived from the words Sanguis, the Latin word for blood, and Genomics. The company’s CEO Stanley Sy says that looking for infinitesimal traces of mutated genetic materials in a blood sample through liquid biopsy is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The company adopts ddPCR (droplet digital polymerase chain reaction), making it possible to test more than 10,000 blood samples in 15 minutes, which significantly enhances diagnostic efficiency.

Currently, the company is focusing on lung cancer, a more prevalent form of cancer. As more than half of all lung cancer patients exhibit symptoms of EGFR mutation, the company’s lab at Hong Kong Science Park will test for EGFR mutation in blood samples.

If the result is inconclusive, it will send the samples to its partners in the US to further conduct more than 70 types of genetic examinations. Sanomics’s diagnostic solutions can help doctors determine the progress of the disease and implement targeted therapy regimes more quickly and precisely.

The company is one of 80-plus companies in the biomedicine cluster fostered by HKSTP. These companies are engaged in medical equipment, stem cell research, genomics and regenerative medicine, molecular diagnostics, or research and development of Chinese and Western medicine. They form a comprehensive R&D ecosystem at Science Park.

Stanley says HKSTP has provided tremendous support to Sanomics at its founding stage and throughout its business development journey. The company has received help in finding investors who are familiar with biomedical technology and linking up with hospitals and R&D organisations for partnerships. HKSTP has also helped win policy support through communication with the Government, in addition to providing an environment that promotes innovation and technology.

Services targeting Asian markets
Sanomics’s services have been adopted by more than 80% of private hospitals in Hong Kong since launch. The company is reaching out to specialist hospitals in other parts of Asia.

Stanley Sy says that Sanomics provides localised service and support to hospitals in specific regions, as cancer types and incidence rates differ between Asian and Western countries, as do the culture, medical systems and insurance practices of different regions.

Optimistic about Hong Kong’s potential in precision medicine
He is optimistic about the company’s business prospect as Hong Kong is an open market with unique strengths in precision medicine. Certain pharmaceutical and technology suppliers will opt to launch their products in Hong Kong to test market response and develop their business.

Moreover, the approval process for new cancer drugs is faster in Hong Kong than in Mainland China, and patients are willing to travel from overseas to Hong Kong for diagnosis or treatment, which in turn helps to stimulate medical tourism.

Currently, Sanomics is developing Asia’s first liquid biopsy centre in Hong Kong, and is promoting the use of genomics for personal cancer management to enhance treatment success rates.

As well, it is looking to extend the liquid biopsy service beyond lung cancer to breast cancer and other forms of cancer. With its high-quality R&D work and detailed business plan, the company is helping the medical fraternity and patients tackle a deadly disease. Its work is full of promise.

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