AstraZeneca taps Owlstone for breath biopsy services

Owlstone Medical's device (Owlstone Medical)

AstraZeneca has signed up to discover exhaled biomarkers in collaboration with Owlstone Medical. The agreement gives AstraZeneca access to Owlstone’s breath biopsy services to support its search for asthma and COPD biomarkers.

Owlstone is built on ion mobility spectrometry technology it thinks can diagnose and stratify patients through the analysis of exhaled volatile organic compounds. The Cambridge, U.K.-based startup is applying the technology to the detection of lung and colorectal cancers and has also moved into the respiratory sector through agreements with GlaxoSmithKline and now AstraZeneca.

The AstraZeneca project is setting out to discover novel biomarkers that reveal the phenotypes of patients with asthma and COPD. Treatment of asthma is now tailored to individuals based on both the severity and phenotype of their condition. Induced sputum and bronchial biopsies can contain important phenotypic biomarkers, but the access and analysis of these samples creates barriers to their use in routine clinical settings.


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Noninvasive breath biopsies could bring down those barriers. If the collaboration achieves its goals, AstraZeneca will develop classification algorithms that uncover breath biomarkers pertinent to the treatment of asthma and COPD. Equipped with knowledge of these biomarkers, physicians could prescribe tailored treatment plans based on the analysis of exhaled breath samples. 

“Through our breath biopsy services, we are well positioned to assist the AstraZeneca team to explore how breath biopsy can identify novel biomarkers for asthma and COPD and to optimize their application in precision medicine,” Owlstone CEO Billy Boyle said in a statement.

News of the AstraZeneca agreement comes five months after Owlstone disclosed a relationship with one of its rivals for the respiratory disease market, GSK. The earlier deal cleared GSK to use the breath biopsy platform in a phase 2 COPD trial.

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