By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Over the last year, Progentec Diagnostics, a startup that is focused on developing breakthrough diagnostics, has made significant progress on a diagnostic test to identify patients at increased risk for flare in lupus.
Lupus is a viciously painful disease that generally surfaces in women in their midteens to forties and affects them for the rest of their lives. This chronic autoimmune disease has two stages. When it is nonsymptomatic, patients don’t feel pain and can carry on with their lives.
But when lupus erupts into a flare, inflammation and pain can be intense. Lupus damages skin, joints, and organs, including the kidneys and heart.
There are about 1.5 million lupus patients in the U.S., with more than 16,000 new cases reported annually. It is believed that more than 5 million people of all races and ethnic groups throughout the world suffer from this disease.
Physicians who treat lupus face a dilemma. The drugs that treat the pain can be very toxic, especially when taken over 15 or 20 years.
“Doctors must decide whether they should be more worried about the flare and kidney damage, or about the issues of adding more and more toxic drugs,” said Progentec CEO and President Mohan Purushothaman.
Better predicting flares gives physicians and patients the opportunity to better manage the disease — there are options for types and dosages of drugs — thereby improving the patient’s quality of life.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) is one of 11 major Autoimmunity Centers of excellence in the U.S. The Progentec Diagnostic test is based on technology developed and spun out by scientists at OMRF.
When Purushothaman and Progentec co-founder and Chairman Sanjiv Sharma set out to build a diagnostics company, they were determined to produce a dramatic improvement over current technology.
“We are not creating another small diagnostic. Really advancing the science is the purpose,” Sharma said. “Our vision is a complete solution through state-of-the-art diagnostics helping right from diagnosing lupus, to management of lupus flare and help in monitoring disease and effectiveness or lack of effects of various treatments.”
“The current test for diagnosing lupus is really old,” Sharma said, “and probably has a 50 to 60 percent predictive value, whereas our test, once the data is confirmed in a larger trial, could have over a 90 percent predictive value.”
Early trials of the flare test are promising, predicting flares several weeks before the flare occurs. Two additional tests to improve the accuracy of a lupus diagnosis and monitor the effectiveness of treatment after diagnosis are nearing clinical trials. Progentec is engaging in strategic partnerships with leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of lupus.
It is impossible to overstate the impact and importance of OMRF to Oklahoma — medically and economically. From science and research discovery in critical areas like lupus to spinning out technology into the very capable hands of entrepreneurs like the two founders of Progentec, OMRF is one of Oklahoma’s greatest assets.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.