Modern medicine doesn’t offer cures for all medical conditions. Down Syndrome is a case in point. Such congenital anomalies can be screened by prenatal tests, but typical tests are not fool-proof or risk-free. Parents-to-be who are concerned with foetal health are left between a rock and a hard place.
Xcelom Limited, an incubatee of the Incu-Bio program of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), presents an accurate, fast and safe test in answer, thanks to years of research by Hong Kong scientists.
A product of extensive research
This Xcelom technology can be traced back to a research published by Professor Dennis Lo Yuk-ming, currently the director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The research, jointly published with his research team in 1997, proved that foetal DNA is present in a pregnant woman’s blood plasma. The finding marked a milestone for life science. The team continued to research for years and invented “Non-Invasive Prenatal Test” (NIPT), which has become the core business of Xcelom.
A normal human cell has 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs that hold genetic information. People with Down Syndrome has a third chromosome 21. They appear different in facial features, physical growth and intellectual development, which may form multiple barriers for learning and lifestyle.
No parents are immune to giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome, but statistics indicate that the older the parents, the higher the incidence rate. OSCAR (One-Stop Clinic for Assessment of Risk) is a popular prenatal screening means, so are the more invasive tests – chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. However, the former is said to have an accuracy rate of just 80% and the latter carries 1% risk of miscarriage.
Highly accurate and clinically proven solution
Xcelom has been exclusive licenced by CUHK to provide an NIPT service called “safeT21express”. The service examines the foetal DNA found in a pregnant woman’s blood plasma. It is a safe means to collect genetic information of the foetus and gauge the risk of Down Syndrome. It offers accuracy rate as high as 99%. The solution has been clinically proven with a body of data, and is being widely adopted around the world.
The NIPT test is simple to conduct – a pregnant woman will provide a small blood sample in a clinic, and the sample will be tested at Xcelom’s lab at Hong Kong Science Park. Within three days, the lab will provide an analysis report. Xcelom claims the diagnostic test is much safer and faster than traditional tests and it’s more reliable with accuracy rate at above 99%. In complicated cases, the company will contact specialised pathologists to provide support to obstetricians.
Rising demand for the test around the world
Xcelom’s general manager Jennie Ho says that the demand for NIPT service is keen as modern families are increasing conscious of family health and the governments around the world strive to reduce genetic disorders to lower medical care burden. The company has linked up with hundreds of doctors in Greater China, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines to provide the service to pregnant women. In addition to in-house testing at its facility, Xcelom also licenses doctors and clinics to conduct the screening test and provides testing agents.
Effective multi-faceted support from HKSTP
Xcelom has been operating at Hong Kong Science Park for more than three years. Tony says HKSTP provides handy support in sourcing investments, connecting with partners and gaining policy support by the Government. The investors introduced by HKSTP are familiar with innovation and technology, who could grasp the merit of the proposition quickly. With HKSTP as a bridge, the company connected with hospitals and research institutes to form partnerships. Policy support was forthcoming having HKSTP highlighted the importance of innovation and technology to the Government.
Hong Kong as a launch pad for reaching out to the world
Looking ahead, Xcelom will continue to use Hong Kong as its base to market its NIPT solution to Asia and the rest of the world. Tony says Hong Kong is still the place to be as Hong Kong’s brands and technologies are highly rated internationally. The city’s mature medical system and open market make it an ideal location to test new technology. The Government’s policy support for innovation and technology in recent years is also helpful for expanding its business. Buoyed by China’s “One Belt One Road” strategy, she believes the company will gain momentum for expanding in overseas markets for a long time to come.
Xcelom Limited is one of the graduates of HKSTP's Incubation Programme