Epicapture: A novel, non-invasive way to detect prostate cancer

12 Jun 2023

Co-founder Dr Antoinette Perry. Image: Epicapture

Founded by Dr Antoinette Perry and Edward Simons, Epicapture wants to change the way the medical industry detects different types of cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer among men. In Ireland alone, nearly 4,000 men are diagnosed with the disease every year. This means one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life – and an ageing population is only set to increase this figure.

While the disease can take an aggressive turn and become life-threatening, millions of men across Europe and the US are diagnosed with what’s regarded as ‘low risk’ prostate cancer and kept on active surveillance, or AS.

“AS is a strategy that enables men with low-risk disease that is unlikely to cause them any harm to maintain existing quality of life by deferring or avoiding radical treatment – such as surgery or radiation – while maintaining the option to proceed to treatment if the cancer progresses,” explained Dr Antoinette Perry, a research scientist based in University College Dublin (UCD).

Treatments can carry risks of incontinence, sexual dysfunction and associated mental health issues. But the regular testing required is no less complicated, as traditional detection methods include blood tests, rectal exams, MRI scans and prostate biopsies.

To make testing easier, Perry teamed up with entrepreneur Edward Simons to found Epicapture, a non-invasive cancer detection and monitoring start-up that spun out of UCD in 2021.

“Our test will be used twice a year as an accurate, affordable and painless monitoring tool and will give men and their clinicians confidence in their joint decision-making on the appropriate course of action,” said Perry, who has been undertaking cancer research for more than two decades.

Essentially, the start-up uses a patient’s urine to determine whether or not they have prostate cancer by running a test on PCR machines, known for their use in Covid-19 testing.

‘Good timing’

The Epicapture prostate test, which Perry and Simons hope is the first of many types of cancer they can detect using this technology, measures six epigenetic DNA biomarkers discovered to be indicative of aggressive disease.

“Clinical features such as a patient’s age and family history are combined with the epigenetic biomarkers using a proprietary algorithm to generate an ‘Epicapture score’ that indicates the likelihood of having aggressive prostate cancer,” explained Perry.

“The urine sample is run on PCR platforms, so our timing is good as there is a lot of capacity out there as demand for Covid tests has fallen.”

While the immediate goal is to progress the prostate test to market for the millions of men affected by the disease, a test to non-invasively determine ovarian cancer is also in the works. All tests are the result of research coming out of Perry’s academic research lab in UCD.

And now, the Enterprise Ireland-supported start-up is aiming to find its way to people’s homes through clinicians.

“Telehealth got a boost during Covid and it’s interesting that many of the consultants we speak with have continued with that. It’s understandable as it’s more efficient and sustainable for the clinician and the patient,” explained Perry.

“One of our future goals plays to that theme. We plan to develop technology to enable home sample collection so the patient can send the urine sample direct to the testing laboratory.”

Gearing up for seed funding

A former UCD Start-up of the Year, Epicapture completed its commercialisation fund work within UCD in October last year and is currently gearing up to launch its seed round. It has previously been awarded €100,000 through the Enterprise Ireland HPSU pre-seed fund.

Last month, Epicapture was one of two Irish start-ups to be named overall winners of this year’s eHealth Embark programme run by Dundalk IT.

Perry’s sound academic background is complemented by the strong commercial abilities of Simons, a chartered accountant and former investment banker. Epicapture is also curating a team of experts including Dr Jim Walsh, Kevin Tansley and Dr Marie Eagleton.

“We also have a very high calibre advisory group, comprising expert urologists, medtech entrepreneurs as well as patients, who add significant value from their lived experience of the disease,” said Perry.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic