Owlstone signs deal with J&J’s Actelion for PH breath test

UK-based Owlstone Medical has signed a deal with Johnson & Johnson’s Actelion unit, to discover and validate a breath-based test for early diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension.

Cambridge-based Owlstone has paired with a number of organisations to develop breath tests for a range of diseases.

It is already working with Cancer Research UK on a trial for a potential breath test for cancer and has partnered with AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline on breath tests for respiratory diseases, and cancer respectively.

The partnership with Actelion involves using the company’s technology to test for pulmonary hypertension (PH), a progressive disease where the blood pressure increases in the vessels that transport blood from the heart to the lungs, placing strain on the right side of the heart and often leading to heart failure.

Early diagnosis of PH is very difficult and there is a pressing need for more accurate diagnosis as even at an advanced stage symptoms are similar to other head and lung conditions, often delaying the correct treatment for several years.

The hope is that Owlstone’s breath biopsy technology will be able to screen for PH and provide information about which sub-group patients are from.

Actelion, which J&J bought two years ago, has built a blockbuster franchise from its drugs to treat PH and finding an accurate diagnostic test will help to maintain its presence in the market amid competition from rivals such as United Therapeutics.

The collaboration will initially involve collecting breath exhaled Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from over 1,000 patients using Owlstone Medical’s proprietary sampling device, ReCIVA from sites in the UK, US and other countries in the EU.

These VOCs will be analysed by Owlstone to identify those that are associated with PH, in order to develop biomarker signatures that can help facilitate earlier detection of the disease.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said: “Owlstone Medical was founded with the objective of improving the early diagnosis of disease in order to save lives through the application of Breath Biopsy.

“This strategic collaboration with Actelion, which is focused on improving the lives of those suffering from PH and PAH, represents a tremendous opportunity to do just that. This is particularly true in underdiagnosed areas such as PH, where early diagnosis is difficult and so screening has to be simple, reliable, and cost effective.”

Actelion has been part of J&J’s Janssen pharmaceuticals unit since its $30 billion acquisition almost two years ago.

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