Each year more people die from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society. VisionGate, an oncology focused diagnostic and pharmaceutical company, is working to stop lung cancer in its tracks.
“We’re actually an integrated company that has both the drug and the companion diagnostic to be able to find the right patients the drug should work on,” said Scarlett Spring, VisionGate president and chief commercial officer.
VisionGate developed the LuCed Lung Test, which can detect bronchial dysplasia and early-stage lung cancer. The test “is a non-invasive sputum test for early detection of cancer,” as explained by Spring.
The LuCed Lung Test is being tested in a clinical trial. Spring said participants must cough up phlegm, either at home or at a doctor’s office, and send the specimen to VisionGate.
Once VisionGate receives the specimen from the patients, “we do a little bit of clean up to it, and we run it on our proprietary system called the Cell CT. That system is an automated single cell three-dimensional imager.”
Instead of looking at cells through a microscope, the Cell CT allows VisionGate to “take 500 images of every single cell and recreate a three-dimensional image,” Spring explained.
This will determine whether the cells are normal or abnormal, allowing for the detection of dysplasia and early-stage cancer.
The LuCed Lung Test is the companion diagnostic to Iloprost, a drug being studied for the treatment of bronchial dysplasia. Spring said VisionGate has the patent of use of Iloprost for research in bronchial dysplasia for lung cancer.
“This drug has significant opportunity in patients who have bronchial dysplasia to reduce it, and thus the promise of them never getting lung cancer,” Spring said.
“Generally, a company is either a diagnostic company or a pharmaceutical company, and then they partner with somebody who has the other complementary technology,” Randall Mastrangelo, VisionGate vice president, global commercial strategy, marketing and sales, said. “We happen to have, in this case, both the diagnostic test to find precancerous lung dysplasia and a medicine which is in phase two development for the treatment of that dysplasia and the prevention of lung cancer.
VisionGate is in both Seattle and Phoenix and was founded in Seattle by Dr. Alan Nelson. After he spent time in the Valley after being recruited by Arizona State University, he decided to relocate the company’s headquarters to Phoenix.
“Part of the reason that we chose Arizona is because of the business-friendly climate,” Spring said.
She went on to explain that “we’ve had a lot of support here locally from the business community and [are] very happy to be a part of the ecosystem here in Phoenix.”