Pittsburgh life sciences company developing diagnostic test for esophageal cancer

Pittsburgh life sciences company Cernostics is on the forefront of a diagnostic test for the early detection of esophageal cancer.

Company researchers have been working under the radar since 2010 to develop a potentially life-saving platform that will help gastroenterologists identify patients who are at risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

Gastroenterologists today cannot adequately determine which patients with Barrett’s Esophagus will progress to esophageal cancer, says Mike Hoerres, CEO of Cernostics.  As a result, patients must undergo regular surveillance endoscopies to check the status of the condition.

Barrett’s Esophagus is a serious complication of GERD, an acid reflux disease caused when gastric acids come up from the stomach and, over time, damage the esophagus. Left untreated, Barrett’s can lead to cancer.

“It’s incredibly novel” says Hoerres. “Our first test is designed to help doctors identify those high risk patients early and help prevent them from getting cancer.”

Cancer of the esophagus is one of the fastest growing cancers in the world. Once considered rare, it has increased by more than 500 percent since the 1970s. About 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society.

Cernostics’ flagship product, TissueCypher, simultaneously evaluates both tissue structure and the expression of multiple biomarkers on esophageal biopsies to determine if a patient is at high risk for cancer, Hoerres says.

The company is a spinout of Celluman, one of several companies founded by Pittsburgh serial entrepreneur Lance Taylor, director of the Drug Discover Institute at University of Pittsburgh. A staff of six is developing the platform on Forbes Avenue.

Cernostics is working with University of Pittsburgh, Geisinger Health System and University of Pennsylvania and other key advisors and has raised $6 million to date.

Investors include Geisinger Health Systems Foundation, Novitas Capital, PLSG and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The firm received two patents in the U.S. and a third in Japan in February 2014.

Cernostics hopes to launch its first clinical diagnostic product in 2015. From there, the company will hire across a variety of disciplines including scientists and software engineers and marketing professionals, says Hoerres.