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Innovation award for diagnostic cancer technology

1 June 2018

Telomere on end of chromosome

A test that predicts the aggressiveness of common types of cancer and identifies patient responses to treatment has won an award for innovation.

Working in partnership with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, TeloNostiX – a spin-out from Cardiff University – has developed a prognostic tool that helps clinicians and patients understand the likely need for treatment and to choose the most appropriate treatment.

It can forecast the outcome of common cancer types like breast cancer and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), and help identify patients who do, and do not, require early treatment.

It has picked up the Medical Innovation Award at this year’s Cardiff University Innovation and Impact Awards.


The work is based on analysing the length of telomeres - caps found at the ends of chromosomes that protect the genetic information from damage.

The technology - known as Single Telomere Length Analysis (STELA) – has been spun out into TeloNostiX thanks to a close, 10-year collaboration between Professors Duncan Baird, Christopher Fegan and Christopher Pepper at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine.

The underpinning study analysed a group of CLL patients and found all of the patients with late stage disease displayed very short telomeres in their cancer cells. Patients with early stage disease that had not yet clinically progressed displayed a range of telomere lengths, so the team hypothesised that telomere length might predict which early stage patients would experience clinical progression of their disease. They showed this to be the case and went on to demonstrate that it was much better at predicting progression than any of the currently used prognostic markers.

“Our tests provide precise prognostic information that will allow cancer patients and their clinicians to make informed clinical decisions about their disease. We are looking forward to making the test available to patients in the near future.”

Professor Duncan Baird Chair, School of Medicine

Having already proven that their test predicted for clinical progression, the team went on to determine whether their technology could predict for response to standard chemotherapies. TeloNostiX has now confirmed, in three independent clinical trials cohorts, that STELA is the most reliable predictor of treatment response.

“The finding that telomere length also predicts for response to chemotherapy and chemo-immunotherapy was a defining moment in the project,” said Professor Fegan, Chief Clinical Officer, TeloNostiX. “The therapeutic arsenal available to oncologists is expanding almost daily, so the ability to match the right patients with the right drug(s) is one of the most important clinical considerations.”

STELA is more powerful than any market competitor as a prognostic biomarker and can predict patient response to “gold standard” treatment.

“It is unique in its ability to detect telomeres within the length ranges at which they become dysfunctional and capable of fusion to other chromosomes,” added Professor Pepper, Chief Scientific Officer, TeloNostiX and former Dean of Research at Cardiff University School of Medicine, now at the University of Sussex.

“These fusions can lead to large-scale genomic mutations and play a key role in driving tumour progression and therapeutic resistance.”

TeloNostiX, is already working with major pharmaceutical companies and has developed STELA into a high-throughput system, to allow for large-scale clinical testing. The underpinning work in the academic laboratories was funded by grants from Cancer Research UK, Bloodwise, Health and Care Research Wales and the Life Sciences Bridging Fund. The company has also attracted grant funding from Bloodwise and InnovateUK.